Monday, February 19, 2007

A New Modest Proposal.

A New Modest Proposal.
James Robert Smith

Removing roads from some of our Southern wild areas.

Currently, this nation’s conservationists are in a serious struggle to save what remains of our roadless areas from development and exploitation by those who wish to ruin these lands and thus turn a handsome profit from such destruction.

For years, those who wish to protect what remains of our natural heritage have been struggling constantly just to fall back at a slower pace and are generally losing ground at an alarming rate. This constant and unending defensive posture is exhausting and barely profitable for the various and many groups waging the fight.

And it has occurred to me on many occasions that the progressives engaged in this struggle of slow and inexorable defeat are not in the correct type of battle. Instead of this never-ending contrition that results in bite-sized victories underscored by massive losses, they would be far better served to go on the offensive in a big and spectacular way.

As most of us who have followed the history of conservation know, one great story of preservation is that of the example set by Governor Percival Baxter of Maine. Frustrated at every turn, legislatively, to preserve Maine’s greatest peak and the lands around it, he had to wait until he’d retired from politics and slowly begin to buy up the townships of and around Katahdin. Unbelievably, he was able to do this, and donated this fantastic wild land to his native state of Maine.

All of this was done in a time and place wherein a man of some wealth was able to achieve these goals, despite the fact of the enormity of the project. Today, land has reached such a level of monetary value that to repeat this achievement would be pretty much impossible save for a handful of the very wealthiest individuals on Earth. And none of these folk seem to be so inclined.

In the absence of a few foresighted multi-billionaires, the task is left to the coffers of the government of the United States of America. Our government. Of the People, For the People, and By the People. There is no other single entity that can win out in a struggle with the vast corporations who pull the strings and which are so adept in exploiting our natural resources for the benefit of so few and to the sad disadvantage of the majority.

Unfortunately, most folk feel that what is good for those who are raping the Earth is also good for them. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and so there is the need for a solid political struggle of education and counter-propaganda against the machinations and lies espoused by corporate America. Additionally, a massive campaign of either electing or turning current legislative bodies has to be pursued and achieved. Votes must be either won or coerced.

Since there is so little remaining of our eastern roadless wildlands, I propose that new roadless areas be created. This should be the first and most powerful thrust of a new movement created to promote and encourage a new modern conservation. There must be a new Restoration.

Looking at a map, there are several obvious areas here in my native South that would benefit from the destruction of some major roads. First and foremost, and serving as an excellent test run, would be the Tran mountain highway connecting Gatlinburg Tennessee to Cherokee North Carolina. The first step in this process would be the removal of the auto road to Clingman’s Dome. At 6,643 feet above sea level, this is both the highest point in the state of Tennessee, and the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Removing the auto road from this extremely beautiful and fragile environment would be a boon to the park and the life that exists on these lands. Because of the elevation and the weather and the vegetation, removing the roadbed and restoring the slopes to the most natural state possible would aid greatly in the learning curve that would hopefully result in the removal of many other great stretches of unneeded roads across the Southeast.

There would be, I predict, great benefit economically to such a massive public works program. Tens of thousands of workers would be needed, perhaps millions. The private sector, in association with a strictly regulated and heavily funded Corps, similar to our old Civilian Conservation Corps, would work in concert to restore our most fragile and ecologically precious areas. As soon as the Clingman’s Dome Auto Road is removed, the next step would be to completely eliminate the highway connecting Cherokee and Gatlinburg.

To be sure, there would be mass opposition from some areas of the private sector against this project. Buying off other wings of the private sector via the enormous government paychecks necessary to achieve this objective should more than offset the voices of opposition. Basically, enable one segment of the very rich to squash another segment of the very rich.

If this particular project seems like too much of a burden to initiate the restoration of these new, vast segments of roadless areas, then the Cherohala Skyway connecting Robbinsville NC and Tellico Plains TN would be a fallback project to get the system under way. This road lies completely on Federal property and has proven to be a massive waste of taxpayer money at the expense of having destroyed what had been a pristine and stunning roadless area in western NC and eastern TN. Removing this road would likely prove to be politically easy and more economically viable, since the Cherohala Skyway has proven to be of almost no benefit to the economies of the two very small villages at either end of this monstrous project. Removing the roadbed and restoring the contours of the peaks and ridges would be a mighty undertaking resulting in the employment of many and the education of countless engineers and ecologists.

After these initial roads were removed from our maps and our ecosystems, we could next tackle two more motor roads that have blighted our Southern highlands for many decades. I propose that the next targets for removal should be the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. Instead a narrow strips of land preserved on either side of a two-lane pavement; Skyline Drive would become a substantial parcel of fragile high country straddling the Blue Ridge escarpment. Nothing but good would come of this, and access to the peaks and coves could still be had via foot and (highly regulated) horseback.

To remove the Blue Ridge Parkway would be to restore the greatest piece of the South’s natural heritage. This awful road tears through the very highest and most scenic lands along its length. Almost any chance of solitude has been lost due to the existence of this long parkway. It should be removed at the earliest opportunity and the peaks and gaps along the length of it allowed to return to their natural state. All access to these high elevation areas should thereafter be only via foot travel and by (heavily regulated) horseback paths.

After these first projects have been achieved, then other such similar areas can be studied and examined for a return to roadless status. There are probably hundreds of likely candidates for roadless restoration. The entire area between Highlands NC and Brevard NC could be made wild and roadless via the use of road removal, dam removal, and the judicious and liberal use of eminent domain and condemnation. A fair market value can be paid for the estates of the elite and removal of structures, power lines, septic tanks, and waste sites. Again, the prospects for employment and the profit by private companies engaged in these projects are enormous. The profits to our water tables, forests, and ecosystems are inestimable. The value of restoring these areas to a wild state and giving back lands in which true isolation can be found and enjoyed are also invaluable.

This is, in total, merely a new modest proposal for our modern times. The sooner we get busy to see it done, the better.


Wayne Allen Sallee said...

sadly, i doubt any of our wishes come true when it comes to restoring america's beauty. i try to stay optimistic, but each day is a downward spiral. on a different note, are you receiving my emails?; i keep getting a recipient return from your old bobaloo email even though i am emailing at the one listed on your web page. email me about this. thx.

HemlockMan said...

Hey, Wayne. Nope. Not getting any emails. Don't know why. I'll send you my primary email address!