Monday, March 11, 2013

Point of the Mountain Dilemma


This week the social media machine mobilized, driven by fellow passionate 'free-flight' fliers.  The Point of the Mountain (POM) flying site is being threatened by reality.  Many pilots have flown, learned to fly, or in my case, have flown by the POM during their flying experiences.  Many pilots have moved to the community at the base of the hill, the explicit reason - to live, fly and party with those who share their passion.  All these pilots are rightfully concerned that the land that they've flown over, launched from, and lived in the shadow of - is going to be removed by the Geneva Rock mining company.

I feel their pain and hope the efforts are successful in minimizing the impact that the mining company imposes on this thriving flying site and its community.  The reality is, regrettably, that this situation boils down to money.  The land - the gravel that resides in the land - is worth millions.  The mining company is doing what they do - with the required permits and ownership.  The only sure way to stop them is to purchase the land that needs to be saved to salvage the site.  There are other iffy options, but attempting to alter public perception to demonize the mining company is a dubious option in my opinion.

This site is amazing.  The community of pilots, who watch each other's kids and are always available to run a retrieve or bail a guy out of jail, are great.  This is a disappointing situation.  Nobody has put it better than long time POM resident Chris Santacroce -

It's been a wild week for lovers of free flight - nationwide. One of the crown jewels of US free flying is under attack by bulldozers. When it comes to bad news and bad situations, I am pretty solid. Basically, it takes a few days for anything heavy to sink in. It's been a few days and I am now, I am down right creeped out. This reminds me of having my car broken into over and over again.

The first thing I want to say about the gravel company - taking a huge chunk out of my favorite hill is: I get it. There is absolutely no doubt that they bought the land, arranged the permits and paid the bonds. No doubt that it is 100% theirs for the taking. We knew this. As a club and as a community, we knew.

Their business is gravel - they feel good about what they do because they build roads and infrastructure for the future of our state. Our business is flying - we share the aerial perspective - we help people to improve their lives by getting in the air. We both do good things and it's nothing personal. I have no contempt for the company or it's employees. This is just a situation.

It turns out that the chunk of gravel that they are taking is worth a couple dozen million by the time it's delivered to construction sites as concrete. As luck would have it, it's prime gravel. The kind that whips into concrete a half a mile away with very little effort. The kind that, as we could have guessed, is already sold. We should have done something a long time ago.

We needed to have done something a long time ago and back then it was still a multi million dollar prospect. We didn't have it, we don't have it now, and we probably won't have it anytime soon. The dozers eat at a flyable aspect of the North Side of the Point of the Mountain - 24 hours a day. Literally.

All this begs the question: Why? Why weren't we worried about this? Why didn't we do something? I have literally lived at the Point of the Mountain for 22 years. In the early days, I lived in a motorhome. All year round. So far, I have raised three dogs and two kids out there. I went from a baby-faced teenager to a grey-haired, forty-something on this very gravel pit. It has always been a gravel pit next to the freeway.

I remember one time about ten years ago, the gravel company brought a dozer to the bottom of the South Side, rigged up a conveyor belt and started loading trucks. The part of the South Side that the speed flyers love because the hill drops off at the end. Some calls were made and they moved the rig within a day or so. They didn't realize we cared so much - they could get gravel from lots of places and they did. That was our experience with the gravel company knocking down flyable portions of the Point of the Mountain.

There are several companies that own property and mining rights. They have always surrounded the flying activity, they have always been there - beneath us - as we fly around. A while back the County and State Parks were established. We gave up our access from the North Side to the South Side in the process. A small price to pay and it gave them a way to push gravel downhill from the area in between the two sides. We were helping.

We noticed that they were taking lots and lots of gravel. Of course they were. If it wasn't the number of trucks ( they keep more than 100 concrete trucks at their pit ) - the view from above told the whole story. Still, we are positive people - dumps, gravel pits, freeways ---> everything looks beautiful from the air.

In early March, 2013, everything changed. The biggest dozer we have ever seen was "taking out" the North Side of the Point of the Mountain. A few things about this totally blew our minds. One, this was the first time any mining had taken place above bench level on the Salt Lake County side of the hill. Two, this was the very first time that they knocked down a portion of the hill that we fly. This was the first time they took out the skyline that has long defined not only the Point of the Mountain, but also Salt Lake County. How could their progress have been so slow and so subtle for so many decades and then all-of-the-sudden… People were in tears. My heart skipped a few beats when I saw the machine taking off the top of the hill. A few days later, I am down right sad.

As they are quick to point out, it’s their land, they have the permits and they paid the bond. To be fair, we shouldn't be mad and some people would have us believe that we are misguided or off base for even stating a goal of "stopping this excavation." Maybe we are. For some of us, this may end up being the fight of our lives.

As we started shooting a short video about our situation, we weren't really sure what our position actually was. In fifteen minutes, the words came to us; "we-thought-we-had-a-deal." We thought we had a deal. We thought they would and could - take gravel from all but the places that we actually fly. Many had already embraced the idea that the only hills left standing in the end would be the ones that we fly.

In our simple minds, we had a deal, and it was a good deal. We don't so much as utter a disparaging word about the gravel company and they let us do our thing. If we thought they had any intention of harvesting gravel from the hills we fly, we would have been there for every permit, for every public comment etc. We never dreamed that they would... Well played gravel company.

I even thought that it might have been a mistake. Did a wayward D9 operator take a wrong turn?

A gravel company representative was even rumored to have said: "we had never seen anyone fly that part of the hill before" ... "we didn't think you'd mind." There are no mistakes when big gravel companies navigate D10's - the gravel was already sold, they didn't think we'd mind and it doesn't really matter that we do.

We have all but resolved ourselves to losing that chunk of the hill. So far, we have new websites, logos, consistent branding, Facebook pages, YouTube videos, Twitter, Instagram... I think we are even on Pinterest. We have poured over maps, called meetings, and met with the media. There are lots of worthy goals - teams - initiatives. We have some passionate, well connected and even savvy people on our team. The mission statement is being massaged.

Here is the deal. There is a triangular shaped piece of the North Side of the Point of the Mountain that goes uphill from where the bathrooms are. The gravel company owns it. They can do what they do with it - if and when they want. Thankfully, it's supremely impractical for them to mine that spot. It's 700 vertical in a half mile to get to the top of it and any gravel they push is going to fall onto the county park. That's a no - no. Reckless poker players that we are, we might just kick back and wait. The odds that they are going to take that triangle are crap. They are going to take everything else - be very sure of that.

Still, we have learned our lesson. We can't rest until we own that triangle. If we had it our way, we would give them some other piece of dirt, have them sell us the triangle for a dollar and we would name it the gravel company flight park. Problem solved, warm fuzzies and high fives. Things aren't usually that easy and that's why our all-star team won't rest until it's done.

Meanwhile there are a few elephants in the room. One, it would seem that there are few, if any, programs whereby defunct gravel pits and mines are re-vegetated and returned to some sort of natural appearance. All we have to do is look across the valley at Kennecott to know that.

The bigger elephant is that if you enter the valley from the West you see some mammoth tailings piles and a smelter to beat all. Ugly. From the north, you see two or three refineries. Stinky. The largest open pit copper mine sits on the west side and it's visible from space. WTH? If you come from Park City. Well, let's just say you ought to come from Park City. Provo kicked all sorts of ass getting rid of the steel plant. That was cool.

There is a really good chance that with the right kind of pressure we could clean up the Point of the Mountain. The gravel company cares, a little - they have a fence around their property. They keep the really ugly stuff behind it. At some point they will move on. In Colorado, they dig down to get their gravel - make a water ski pond and build houses around it. We need to work on that. All of Utah needs to work on that.

Finally, people take notice. Literally - every community should have someone in charge of watching public notices for public comment about future gravel pits etc. - any development. It's often your only chance to say something, to do something.

From a flying site standpoint - do what you can to buy launches and landing areas. Buy a scrap of dirt that you can kite on, tow on, motor on. The writing is on the wall. This is how we preserve flying spots.

I am sorry that I wasn't a better caretaker of the Point of the Mountain. Sometimes we lose sight of what is important. I took her for granted. My bad.

A few words ring in my head over the last week. None so loud as: "PROTECT THE MOUNTAINS FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS."

If you'd like to help, check their site at http://savethepotm.org/    It's a good cause and I hope some mitigation of the damage is possible.

Tim



Saturday, March 2, 2013

Surfing the Sierras - Sierra Safari - Final Cut

Route of the Sierra Safari Team.
In September of 2012, a bit more than a week before my amazing three days of XC in the Owens Valley, a group of pilots left Lone Pine with a goal that many have dreamed of accomplishing - but few have attempted.  The small gaggle of talented pilots left with the intention of pioneering the route from the Eastern Sierras, North to the Oregon border.  Time constraints, injury, and fatigue all conspired to whittle this group in number, but the team effort paid off.  24 days after launching in souther CA, the border of Oregon was crossed.

The boys camped at high camps and followed routes they had researched on Google Earth.  They endured many discomforts but had a great time doing it.

Here is a short movie that conveys spirit of the trip very well - it also voices the reasons we fly XC in a way that many of us feel, but few can explain.
Tim

Surfing the Sierras from Offshore Odysseys on Vimeo.
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