It often seems that if the words “public lands” appear in this newspaper, it’s in the context of some kind of controversy.
Many times (see Page 1 of the May 17 edition of the Powell Tribune), it’s a debate over big issues and high ideals: Who can manage public lands better, the State of Wyoming or the federal government? Should the McCullough Peaks be permanently protected for future generations with new restrictions or should people be allowed to continue using the area just as they have for generations? And which places are best for riding motorbikes and which spots should be reserved for quiet hiking?
Unfortunately, what’s sometimes lost in the headlines and talking points are the lands themselves.
Here in Park County, we’re blessed to be surrounded by tons of breathtaking public lands. Turn your head one direction and you’re looking toward the Shoshone National Forest and Yellowstone National Park — one of the most amazing places on the planet. Turn the other way and your gaze drifts toward Bighorn Canyon and the Bighorn National Forest.
We enjoy access to spectacular places that most people in the world can only dream of. If you’re not hiking, biking, driving, riding, sightseeing or otherwise recreating in some of our public lands, you’re missing out. In many places — such as our national forests — it will only cost you the gas to get there. Starting next week, on May 25, you can add another free destination to that list, as Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area will no longer be charging admission.
But enjoying public lands doesn’t require a trip to a famous or massive forest or park. Just west of Cody — well before you get to the Shoshone or Yellowstone — you’ll hit Buffalo Bill State Park. (Thanks to the efforts of county commissioners and others, parts of the state park are about to become free, too.) Head a ways east of Powell and you can spend some time fishing or walking at Deaver Reservoir.
If you live in town, you likely can spend some quality time on public lands just by walking a few blocks to a city park. Some are not that well-known. For instance, did you know the City of Powell maintains seven of them? We’ll admit that, until it was mentioned (and then rejected) as a possible site for a dog park last month, some of us on this editorial board had no idea Whitlock Park even existed. (For the record, it’s located next to the bus barn, not far from the intersection of Road 8 and Madison Street.)
While they may not grab headlines, these are all public lands that have been set aside for you to get out and enjoy.
These places belong to all of us — and we don’t all agree on how they should be managed and used; for that matter, some budget hawks don’t even agree that government should be spending taxpayer dollars on public lands, parks or recreation.
While no arm of government should get a blank check, we do believe that vibrant public places are critical to our community. The fact is that few people would ever consider raising a family or starting a business in a place that lacks parks or nearby places to recreate.
Debates over how we should manage our public spaces are important, as decisions can last for generations. You should speak up for what you want to happen to your public lands; just don’t forget to keep enjoying them, too.