Families get to keep permits
New Sequoia-Kings Canyon plan preserves private use of public land.
By Mark Grossi / The Fresno Bee
The fight over evicting families using private cabins in Sequoia National Park is a mild skirmish compared to the national debate over draining Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park.
But the 60 cabins are among the prominent changes in a vast, new plan for Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. The families who own the cabins can hang onto their federal land-use permits, meaning they can continue using and preserving their beloved old buildings.
The plan, released last week, does not call for evictions, a possibility the draft plan raised a few years ago. The National Park Service revised its plan after Congress passed a law two years ago allowing families to keep using their summer getaways on public land.
The only catch is that federal officials still can revoke the permits someday if they need the land for some other purpose.
Opponents are not encouraged. They say the federal government should have torn down many of the cabins and allowed the public to use more of the picturesque area called Mineral King Valley.
"It's ridiculous to let private owners stay on public land," said Paul Boley of Three Rivers in Tulare County. "A national park is a national park."
Preservation of the cabins, which date back many decades, is among almost 400 issues covered in the new General Management Plan for the adjoining Central California parks. It took nine years to complete the 600-page document, which replaces a plan dating back to 1971.
Such plans are statements of how national parks will protect and manage areas around rivers, mountains, trees and the rest of the landscape. At the same time, officials must make sure the protections don't prevent the public from seeing these natural wonders.
The combined 860,000 acres in Sequoia and Kings Canyon contain some of the Sierra Nevada's most dramatic attractions. Kings Canyon is considered America's deepest river canyon; Mount Whitney is the tallest peak in the lower 48 states; and the General Sherman Tree, a giant sequoia, is the largest tree in the world.
In Mineral King at 7,500 feet, east of Three Rivers, debate over private cabins has flared since the 1960s when the Walt Disney Co. began planning to build a major ski resort in the glacial valley.
Cabin owners fought to get Mineral King out of Sequoia National Forest where such commercial ventures are allowed. By 1978, federal legislation designated Mineral King as part of Sequoia National Park, where it would be protected from development.
But the legislation allowed cabin owners to remain only until the death of the family member who holds the permit to use the land.
For years, the cabin families then lobbied for legislation that would allow them to stay. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, finally pushed it through Congress in 2004.
Louise Jackson of the Mineral King Preservation Society said the owners got what they wanted, but they still worry that federal officials could find a reason to revoke the permits.
"The cabins are not secure forever," Jackson said. "But we think a lot of people support preserving them. The cabins do not take up much space in the valley. Mineral King is open to the public. It's a major trailhead where people start their backpack trips."
Among those who don't share her view is John Krebs, the former congressman whose 1978 legislation allowed the park to absorb Mineral King. He said all of Mineral King should be open to the public, and he was disappointed with the 2004 legislation.
He said, "There's nothing left for me to say about it now."
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