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Aug 29
Aug 29

The Peaks in Context

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Henry David Thoreau said, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” This is a dark time, filled with suffering, uncertainty, and widespread inequality. It is natural that we feel the trauma. It is important that we are not afraid to experience this anguish, this anger, this fear as it is still proof that we are alive. Just remember that “to suffer with” is the literal meaning of the word compassion. And none of this is to say that there is not much beauty and good in the world. Because there is. And you can read about it here.

Kyle Boggs is a local journalist who has taken it upon himself to keep a good record of what has happened on the Peaks. This section is a compilation of article he wrote for the monthly news magazine, The Noise. These articles touch on early history of the ski area, litigation in the 1970's, 1980', 2000's, and 2010's, as well as direct action campaigns that started in the summer of 2011.

The debate concerning development on the San Francisco Peaks stands as one of the most divisive issues in Flagstaff today. While most people are aware of the current decade-long debate concerning the expansion of Snow Bowl and the use of reclaimed wastewater to manufacture artificial snow, it is perhaps more important that Northern Arizona residents are reminded of the larger context from which this issue is situated.

Context is everything. In the same way that hunger issues in African nations are debated without regard to a widespread history of colonization and exploitation of people and the land, many people discuss the Snow Bowl debate as if it is only 10 years old. The truth is, 13 regional tribes, scores of environmental groups, and other concerned citizens have been battling development on the Peaks for 50 years or longer.

What we're really talking about is the tension between two opposing worldviews. But really, where to begin? Some would argue the controversy began the second Christopher Columbus was found lost at sea and rescued by Native people in 1492. Others would argue that clashes started brewing in 1629, when Franciscan Friars named the mountain range, "The San Francisco Peaks," in honor of St. Francis, despite for thousands of years prior, the mountain had already been named by the Hopi.

The explorations of Antoine Leroux of Taos, New Mexico in this area in the mid-1800s led to many people eager to explore the area, including other familiar names like Sitgreaves, Kendrick, and Beale.

Upon reaching the San Francisco Peaks, in amazement, Lt. Edward Beale, who made four major trips in this area, often following in Leroux's footsteps, remarked, "The magnificent San Francisco Mountain, capped with eternal snow, renders the landscape perfect."

The "Boston parties" who settled Flagstaff began to arrive in 1876, after a large and elaborately illustrated book circulated the east coast. The book, by Samuel Woodworth Cozzens, was called The Marvelous Country, with a focus on the area's "immense mineral wealth." In the book, Cozzen described the beauty of the Peaks, with the emphasis on the potential for exploitation and financial gain.

He wrote: "Farther to the westward, the San Francisco Peak stood like a mighty giant vigilantly guarding the priceless treasures concealed within its bosom."

Though Flagstaffians have been skiing on the Peaks since the 1930s, it wasn't until the early 60s that the seeds of cultural disharmony began germinating. It was during this time that Flagstaff Ski Club, which had been operating a small abandoned cabin on the mountain under a Forest Service special use permit, decided to build a ski lift.

Popularity among those in Phoenix and Tucson rose throughout that decade, and Flagstaff started marketing itself as a ski town, complete with ski shops, lodging, and more. The Daily Sun remarked by 1969 that SnowBowl was "World famous, among the finest in the US," though the article was not based on any studies or surveys of any kind.

Throughout the 60s, Arnal Corporation, led by "straight-talking, ex-Marine," Dick Mample, ran the SnowBowl.

"Harvard educated and Flagstaff-bred," former SnowBowl employee Bruce Leadbetter, landed a job as President of Summit Properties, a company owned by his father, Mert. Through Bruce, Summit Properties, a luxury property development corporation operating out of Phoenix and a subsidiary of the Post Corporation of Dallas, a multi-million dollar investment and development corporation, secured the acquisition of Arnal Corporation. This allowed Summit to acquire over 300 acres inside Hart Prairie.

In December 1969, Summit Properties announced its intention to develop a "ski village" on Hart Prairie below SnowBowl. "SnowBowl Village" was to be a 325-acre plot much like Vail or Aspen, Colorado, with restaurants, shops, and lodges near the base of a 5,800-ft. chairlift leading to SnowBowl. It would also include condos, apartments, vacations homes, and even a "championship golf course."

In early 1971, the County Planning and Zoning Commission approved Summit's rezoning request from a heavy commercial to a cluster-type zoning, which would allow them to proceed with their plans to build the ski village. It was also approved by the Forest Service, assuming adequate supplies of water were found, though it was not approved by County Board of Supervisors.

Because other parties owned land within 300 feet of the Summit property, the board would need a unanimous vote. At this meeting, Tio Tachias was the sole dissenting voice. He explained, among other things, that the proposed ski village would cater to the extremely rich by giving them "first crack" at all the recreational facilities. He also brought up the fact that adequate water supplies had not been secured and he was the only board member that took seriously the religious arguments of Native people. He said, "I think that we have shown too little respect and disregarded their feelings and values for too long." Needless to say, Mr. Tachias was hailed as a "political ecological hero" to some and "road block" to others.

In February 1972, Summit resubmitted their plans, this time boasting the company's wells would supply 830,000 gallons of water per day, enough for a community of 11,000 or more residents, as well as not one golf course, but two. The items were rejected, but the Planning and Zoning Commission's decision had nothing to do with the erroneous plans themselves, but because Summit failed to submit its request at least ten days before the hearing. Summit resubmitted their plans in April and they were approved by the commission, given adequate supplies of water could be found.

Summits preliminary subdivision layout and permits for both a golf course and a ski lift were also approved by the Board of Supervisors. Richard and Jean Wilson, who owned land adjacent to the Summit properties, filed a lawsuit, stating the county did not give adequate public notice for the rezoning request. Similarly, tribal members filed a suit to challenge the result of the hearing, citing that the notice of hearings were not printed in any newspaper circulated on reservation land and that material was not accessible by tribal members who didn't speak English.

During the time between this hearing and the legendary public hearing on January 29, 1974, which drew more than 1,400 community members to the Flagstaff High School auditorium, Summit worked hard on a public relations campaign alongside their search for water.

Deep holes were drilled throughout Hart Prairie, destroying access roads and carelessly tearing up trees and pavement. While Mample blamed the destruction on the heavy winter, eye-witness complaints filed by property owners resulted in the city demanding Summit rebuild the roads. "...The road has been gouged and rutted outrageously. The destruction of trees along the edges of the road can clearly be seen. This seems to be from the careless use of machinery backing into and running down healthy pine trees."

Despite the vast amounts of anti-development editorials, the local media consistently showed clear bias in the developer's favor. One exposé in Arizona Living that came out in July of 1972 interviewed General Manager of SnowBowl, Dick Mample in an article headlining: "Festive Future is assured and surrounding environs as the City's own Bruce Leadbetter and his troy Post Company lay groundwork for a plush, total-environment winter community destined to gain Flagstaff international ranking as a skiing center." The article went on to describe Mr. Mample as "ruggedly handsome." Similarly, in April of 1973, the Daily Sun ran a promotional article for Snow Bowl. Given the title, "Snow Bowl Becoming Top Resort for Skiers" with a picturesque winter-wonderland scene of a skier taking the lift up Agassiz Peak.

In the latter part of the year, Summit invited county board members to check out its elaborate "Tres Vidas" resort in Acapulco, Mexico so they would have an accurate understanding of what Summit would bring to the San Francisco Peaks. It was ambiguous whether or not expenses were paid.

While Mr. Leadbetter claimed each board member paid their own way, others said that Summit paid for everything but transportation. Mr. Tachias, who did not accept the invitation, responded that to compare Acapulco to Flagstaff is like comparing apples to bananas. "I have yet to see my first palm tree on the Peaks and Acapulco can't possibly have our water problems."

Another consistent voice of dissent throughout the whole case was from Northern Arizona University Geologist, John Duncklee. In a letter to the editor — among several key points against the development such as fire risks, water shortages, and respect to Native communities — he wrote: "The beauty of the San Francisco Peaks would be permanently destroyed by the proposed development. Man has yet to improve on nature's efforts by building houses, gas stations, restaurants, motels, and golf courses. The beauty of the mountain is Flagstaff's greatest asset."

Just a week before the public hearing, the Forest Service, which had been relatively silent on the issue, finally commented: "The United States Forest Service is opposed to, and recommends against, the development of Hart Prairie more specifically ... identified as SnowBowl Village."

Bruce Leadbetter wrote an editorial that came out the day before the hearing called, "Summit Plans to Serve Public," where he asserted that those who were against the development were simply not in-tune with the facts. "Most of the criticisms have been so little based on reality..." and he referred to those who have supported the development as "responsible people."

Though newspapers counted 1,400 people present at the hearing, witnesses still claim there were two thousand or more, not counting the people outside the building and in the streets that day. One Flagstaff man said in a KNAU interview that it was a very proud day for Flagstaff.

When Mr. Leadbetter approached the mic, booing was heard from blocks away. "Needless to say," he said, "I don't find this pleasant to be here. I know that I have a very hostile group of people here that I'm talking to and it is scary." Much to the crowd's pleasing, someone yelled, "Go back to LA!" To which Leadbetter responded, "I have seen old western movies about how lynchings took place and I can see how it happened."

The hearing went on until 2AM, as Native people, environmentalists, and community members gave impassioned pleas to protect the Peaks.

Further asserting his assumption that his opponents were simply not well-informed, he said, "90 percent of you are not familiar" with the development and that many people were "misinformed."

Throughout the weeks leading up the public hearing Mr. Leadbetter and others tried to pressure the Hopi and Navajo to define which parts of the mountain are sacred, refusing to hear their consistent calls to maintain the integrity of the entire range. Supervisor E. H. Wiegel interrogated Hopi Herbert Lewis, asking, when "you describe the Peaks area, at what level? How low down on the mountain do you go or how high up do you go?" Lewis responded in a similar fashion than the others who were asked. "When I meant the Peaks area, I didn't just mean half of the San Francisco Peaks or just the bottom of the San Francisco Peaks. Like my father indicated over there, he says the San Francisco Peaks has roots and this could go out for miles. We have shrines around the adjacent area of the San Francisco Peaks."

Much of this discourse, however, proved to be irrelevant to the final decision. Though the county planners rejected Summit's proposal that night, it was because over 51% of adjacent landowners did not support the measure.

The whole trial ended up being a battle over property rights. One letter to the editor stressed this important detail, which reveals the priorities of the city in relation to human rights and environmental responsibility.

"The Peaks were 'saved' for the time being because of legal technicalities. The commission did not challenge Summit Property's moral right to develop Hart Prairie. The issues of Indian Rights, and religion, of environmental protection, and the rights of the community to self-determination may as well not have been raised so eloquently ... We must make certain that we and our children will not have to defend these same Peaks ever again."

Leadbetter held on to his beliefs that, if the public was better informed on the development plans, and "not so emotional," more people would support it. This prompted him to publish an article called "A Statement of Facts" where he attempted to debunk the so-called "myths" surrounding the proposed development. "We think it deplorable that Indians and others have been misled by those who wish to accomplish a private purpose."

While most of the letters to the editor were opposed to the development, there were some voices of support for Summit. These voices pointed toward the benefits of more jobs, boosts in the economy, and that there is a clear and distinct difference between "destroying the land and developing it."

Clearly, the Hopi and Navajo, who have consistently opposed any development on the mountain, regard development as destruction. Logan Koopee, former Vice-Chairman of the Hopi Tribal Council said, "The Hopi Tribe would definitely prefer to have this area in a natural state." And in response to the constant accusations that they weren't aware of the "facts," said, "The Indian People have NOT been misled about the nature of the proposed development on Hart Prairie. They know about it and object to it."

Though Summit filed a few appeals in the late 70s, including one where it accused the City and others of a conspiracy against them, they eventually gave up and sold its land to the Forest Service. Today, much of that land is protected. Victories for Natives and environmentalists were short lived, however, as renewed attacks on the Peaks began immediately when Northland Recreation purchased the lease to operate SnowBowl in 1975. Less than two years later, the Forest Service announced that it had received a plan from Northland to develope and "improve" the SnowBowl facilities.

Written by Kyle Boggs