Hundreds of people attend Sinks Canyon master plan briefing on Monday
(Lander, WY) – Over 250 community members attended the Sinks Canyon Master Plan (SCMP) Briefing hosted by Wyoming State Parks on August 30 at the Lander Community Center.
This meeting was part of the process of implementing the SCMP – a guide that had not been updated since 1975. The 113 pages the final report was published in the fall of 2020 and identifies the goals, vision and strategy for the next 20 years of Sinks Canyon.
Monday’s meeting included a review of how they arrived at the final version which began in the spring of 2019; they organized two public workshops, four steering committee meetings, eight focus group meetings, created a project web portal, and organized a ‘zoom summary’. The plan itself was also reviewed and included updates from the project. The community had the opportunity to share their thoughts on the plan.
Community feedback has been collected and will be made available to the public on the SCMP page – no availability calendar was noted during the meeting. The comments will then be reviewed by stakeholders before moving on to the final design review, in accordance with the state parks master plan project implementation process.
The meeting briefly touched on such things as the relocation of the Visitor Center, the Sunnyside Trail – cycle path connecting the canyon, the District Creation – Sawmill, Rise, Sinks & Popo Agie, and Orientation, among others.
The vast majority of the time centered on the Sinks Canyon Via Ferrata Project (SCVF) – a ropeway and rung assisted climbing route. This proposal has created conflict among community members in recent months.
The guiding principles of the plan are listed as follows: “Keeping the canyon wild” and “Optimizing economic development”.
Wyoming State Parks shared updated actions taken for the SCVF during the meeting, including: Land and cultural surveys have been completed and cleared, and adaptive management strategies are identified.
They also noted that volunteers plan to set it up with state-of-the-art equipment, and when completed, it will be handed over to Wyoming state parks. Day-to-day operations will be through a concessionaire, and the state parks will oversee management.
WGFD, which owns the property it is proposed to build on, will work closely to manage impacts to wildlife with mandatory closures as this is a Wildlife Habitat Management Area (WHMA) .
The main wildlife concern raised by community members is a pair of peregrine falcons that nest annually on one of the two walls at the mouth of the canyon – one happens to be the proposed location of the SCVF.
Below is the WGFD document of the meeting on their management plan (click on photos to enlarge):
Nearly two dozen community members spoke during the public comment period; a few others had signed up to speak but left before the comment period began.
Crystal C’Bearing, deputy director of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office (NATHPO), said during the meeting that she asked for their office to be part of the cultural investigation early on, but was never contacted.
NATHPO is appointed by the Northern Arapaho Business Council to protect cultural resources, she explained. What often happens is that agencies come to them and say, “We let you know that this is happening; this is what is happening. A check mark indicating that they have been notified.
“I remember a master plan meeting many years ago, that I was on a call, and I specifically said at that point when you do the cultural resources survey, we need to have our tribal archeology technicians there, as well as a survey to identify our cultural resources, ”C’Bearing said. “Because often what we find with our traditional ecological knowledge is that they don’t know what they’re looking for. When you see things that our elders and indigenous people see, a lot of academics miss about 75% of it. So it is very important that we participate in the tribal investigations in these areas, and we were not included.
“I specifically said at this meeting, we wanted to be involved and wanted to participate. And then it happens all the time when the inventory of cultural resources arrives, Class III when you read it, and then that said, there are no cultural discoveries. And for me, it’s disturbing. You know, that shouldn’t happen anymore. We are no longer stupid Indians; we are educated, we know what we are doing. We have our elders by our side, who support us, who lead us and who direct us. And so we have all this knowledge in our hands. And we can help the community find a better plan and how we can work together. And that’s all I ask of our tribe, it’s just an equal opportunity to have our voice heard and our story heard to help Sinks Canyon.
The Dawn Olsen brought up tribal consultation of the Historic Preservation Act who says :
Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (link deleted, replaced by Title 54 of the United States Code) requires tribal consultation at all stages of the process when a project or federal agency effort may affect historic properties that are either located on land, or where a Native American tribe or Hawaiian indigenous organization attaches religious or cultural significance to the historic property, regardless of the location of the property.
When such an enterprise takes place on tribal lands, the federal agency must inform the appropriate Native American tribes of the enterprise and give those tribal groups the opportunity to consult with each other, if they wish.
“We haven’t received this,” she said.
Caroline Mills, a member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, spoke on behalf of Mother Earth. She noted that the place is “so that calm and peace become one with nature” and that this will not be possible with everyone.
“And if a person spoke on behalf of our tribe at these meetings, it was not on behalf of our tribe,” she explained. “We have a general counsel, that’s our form of government. So I’m going to introduce it to our people, put it on our Advocate General’s agenda, and talk to our people how our tribe knows it, and it’s just not one person.
Four local representatives also spoke during the comment period and included Fremont County District 4 Commissioner Mike Jones, Senate District 25 Senator Cale Case, and District 54 Representative Lloyd Larsen , and Lander City Council member for Ward 2 Julia Stuble.
Jones and Larsen noted that they supported the SCVF because of its likelihood of helping the Fremont County economy decline by bringing people here who would not normally be able to visit or stay. They both praised the process and thought it was transparent and thorough.
“Over the past eight years, Fremont County has lost half of its tax base,” Jones said. “We went from $ 1.1 billion to $ 560 million in our current budget in our property tax base. I believe this specific plan represents responsible planning for economic growth that balances the economy with social impacts and natural resources.
Case objects, noting that this particular place not only contains personal memories of his childhood here, but that it is a historic place that should not have any infrastructure, including what already exists at the Sawmill Campground. An alternative would be a site already set up by Bruce’s Campground.
Stuble also praised the process that has already taken place for the SCMP and believes that community engagement and impact assessments are important and should be taken into account. She also noted that she is in favor of the SCVF since this state park is already a developed recreation area.
Several members of the recently formed Citizens for Keeping Sinks Canyon Wild group have spoken out against this being on this particular location and having an impact on wildlife.
Member Ron Smith said working together will be key to moving forward.
“I hope we can all agree that these problems can be easily resolved if we can only come together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration,” he said. “If we can make this effort, we will achieve the necessary balance between enhanced recreational opportunities, while preserving the natural historical and cultural amenities for which the park is also known. “
That evening, four public commentators agreed that the SCVF would be a great addition to the canyon, help the economy, and provide a unique experience that is not common in the United States because there are few via ferratas.
Community member Joan Dillon explained that “this whole state is going to hell because of the lack of tourism and the lack of money. The budget is not there. You have to help him. We’re talking about a fucking canyon wall and everyone’s going crazy about it.
The WGFD Lander region also had staff on hand to answer questions in the breakout sessions that rounded off the evening. If any questions or concerns were not answered during the presentation or the comment period, they could be addressed then.
County 10 confirmed to WGFD that an application for approval of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) approval process through the US Fish & Wildlife Services (USFWS) has not yet been submitted. Submission depends on whether or not it is the officially approved location of the SCVF by state parks.
Which, according to the information provided during their presentation below, will come after their consideration of comments from Monday’s meeting.
The SCMP and additional resources provided by Wyoming State Parks can be viewed here.
County 10 will keep you posted on the latest SCVF coverage. Click here to see all of our coverage so far.