A narrative often heard is that government is broken. It's too big. It's beholden to special interests. It doesn't listen to the voices of average citizens.
But, as we saw recently with the final crafting and unveiling of the $210 million Merced River protection plan for Yosemite Valley, citizens without big bank accounts and unrepresented by lobbyists can play a prominent role in shaping the future of our national treasures.
We cite this example because local residents will have an opportunity to weigh in Thursday night on a grant application for developing high-quality off-road vehicle recreation areas, roads and trails in the Sierra National Forest.
The open house is scheduled for 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Sierra National Forest headquarters at 1600 Tollhouse Road in Clovis.
Forest service managers are entrusted with protecting fish, plants, water and wildlife while providing visitors the opportunity to engage in recreation and take in spectacular scenery. It's a difficult challenge and balancing act. Americans have widely different perspectives on how these lands should be managed.
To the credit of the U.S. Forest Service, it has sought wider and deeper levels of public engagement in formulating forest plans in recent years. It is conducting more public meetings and taking advantage of technology to interact in meaningful ways with the public.
We support the goal of building first-class off-road vehicle areas and roads. Not only will this recreational opportunity provide many hours of fun for participants, but it will help the local economy.
Our national forests and parks belong to all Americans. Rules governing their management must be based on best practices and science, and must not tilt toward the wishes of a select few stakeholders.
Remember, your voice can make a difference.
As originally proposed, the Merced River protection plan would have eliminated some of Yosemite's most popular activities: bicycle rentals, day horseback rides, raft rentals and ice skating. That plan also called for removal of the historic Sugar Pine Bridge.
Residents — particularly those in mountain communities that are entries to Yosemite National Park — objected. They said the proposal was too slanted toward hikers and backpackers. The National Park Service listened and came up with a compromise plan that protects the river, cuts congestion in Yosemite Valley and still provides activities that people have enjoyed for generations.
The right balance can be found for the Sierra National Forest, too.
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