he Inyo National Forest will potentially (all but likely) close certain roads in Mono and Inyo Counties to public access until at least June.
The proposed roads/areas of closure are: Minaret Vista, Red’s Meadow, Mammoth Lakes Basin Roads, Pine Creek Road, Buttermilk Road and Mt. Whitney Area Trails.
According to a letter from Tammy Randall-Parker, Inyo National Forest Supervisor, “This decision was based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as state and local health authorities.”
What may have prompted the action was Forest Service concern about lack of staffing in the coming months. Due to COVID-19, seasonal staff allocated to these areas will not arrive to the Eastern Sierra until May 24. If they are from another area (most of them are) then they will have to quarantine two weeks before becoming eligible to work, pushing their availability date to Sunday, June 7.
There were two meetings this week discussing the proposed closures. First, there was a two hour Eastern Sierra Sustainable Recreation Partnership (ESSRP) meeting on Monday, followed by nearly three hours dedicated to the topic at Wednesday’s joint Mammoth Lakes Town Council meeting with the Mono County Board of Supervisors.
Five hours of discussion. On what is essentially a foregone conclusion. Randall-Parker’s letter of April 14 suggested it’s a fait de accompli roads will be closed until June 30 (although Town Council asked that closures be reconsidered on June 5 – see Council’s letter to Parker reprinted on page 4).
Council and Supervisors spent much of Wednesday tinkering with the wording of proposed letters to be sent to the Forest Service, knowing full well the Forest Service would likely only make marginal changes to policy.
The five hours of discussion, however, did provide a lens into what decision-makers are currently thinking.
For one, the closures themselves are, well, weird. They are road closures. Not trail closures … except all the trails near the Whitney Portal. District Ranger for the area, David Andersen told ESSRP meeting attendees, “At Whitney Portal, I won’t have anyone until June 15. This has a huge effect on our resources.”
Then there’s the disconnect between the Forest Service wanting people to recreate while social distancing, while closing certain areas to ensure the remaining open areas will be crowded, making social
distancing more difficult. If you have ten possible places to go and close five, the remaming five will be overrun.
The first meeting, for ESSRP, gave the Forest Service mixed reviews. For the most part, people understood the closures. But the logistical issue between road closure and trail closures was a tough pill to swallow. Eventually Philip DeSenze attempted to clear up the confusion, “The roads are closed. Closed means closed. People would not be able to walk to the buttermilks. Our ability or desire to enforce this would mitigate that but they are closed.”
What ensued was an onslaught of negative comments.
Mono County Board Chair Stacy Corless said, “I’m really struggling with these closures. I hate public policy like this.”
Fellow Supervisor Jennifer Kreitz added, “This policy feels almost Draconian.”
Craig Albright, Vice President of Skier Services at Mammoth Mountain, said, “I don’t see the advantage of closing them now when places like the Lakes Basin still have five feet of snow on it. To echo Kreitz, it feels a bit premature to be this draconian.”
“People that live in this community are struggling,” said Karen Schwartz, a member of the Bishop City Council, “The closure outweighs the benefit of just mental health. It doesn’t seem like it will have the intended effect [that the Forest Service desires].”
Most of the concern stemmed from locals not having the ability to recreate.
Mammoth Lakes Town Council fielded nine letters in their agenda packets on the topic on Wednesday. .
Two letters agreed with the closures. Multiple asked questions. And the rest were against it.
One letter from Lisa Petrie stated, “I believe that by closing these areas, you are forcing citizens into smaller areas, thus causing more human interaction.”
LeAnna Merrill, administrative assistant at Mammoth Brewing Company wrote, “I wanted to comment that I agree with the road closures for Lakes Basin and Reds Meadow with the amendment that locals can walk, hike and bike on these trails and roads while remaining socially distant.
Michael Draper, a planning analyst for Mono County, basically summed up every conversation, “I agree precautions need to be taken to limit transmittal of COVID-19. I also agree that these closures will deter out-of-town visitors into the area, but I wish there was a way to balance closures with the needs of our recreation-minded local population.”
And that is where we are. Precautions need to be taken. The idea of out-of-town visitors paralyzes governing bodies in the area.
John Wentworth was paralyzed. Bill Sauser didn’t seem too distraught over the road closures. Kirk Stapp liked them. Lynda Salcido had some good political rhetoric that made her seem like she knew what she was saying. And Cleland Hoff was reeling from a contentious encounter with Craig Burrows, the Chief Medical Officer for Mammoth Hospital.
*Opinion time: Hoff lost her cool and was unprofessional. But Burrows comes across as arrogant and condescending. Burrows could learn a lesson from the ol’ Sauser bag of tricks, “Anything else? OK. Moving on.”
Eventually, Mammoth Lakes Town Council agreed to send the letter to the Forest Service in support of the closures. The Board of Supervisors did not send a letter as Corless stated, “We don’t support the proposed closure.”
Corless told The Sheet later that her biggest issue is that the default (if nothing changes) is a closure through June.
The default in her mind should be a June 1 open.
Council did vote 4-1 (Sauser against) asking that the Forest Service change the June 30 closure date to June 5 to, “decide to rescind or modify the Forest Closure Order for areas… and reconsider maintaining the closures staying in effect through June 30, 2020.”