Editorial: What we touch, we change | ParkRecord.com

Editorial: What we touch, we change

A caterpillar tractor with dozer widens the roadway of the Alaska Highway, 1942 | U.S. Office of War Information

If you look across the high valleys of Summit County, surmounted by mountains and hills like a tiara, and squint a little, it is easy to feel — and believe — that you are seeing this land in its eternal state. That’s a good feeling for many of us; the land immense, unaltered by our busy hands and our ceaseless quest for riches. The land as it is meant to be. We feel almost insignificant in this great natural diorama, and that can be a comfort. And a balm to guilty consciences.

It can also be an illusion. If ever there was a land that seems to have withstood our ravages, it is Alaska, and even the road to it. In 1942, two months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army and Congress approved construction of the same Alaska Highway that you can still drive today, if you have the time and grit. It was first used to transport troops and materiel to defend the Aleutian Islands from Japan’s invasion, but one of the remarkable things about the construction now is seeing archival film of it, as caterpillar tractors with dozers rip tens of thousands of trees out of the permafrost and toss them aside the 36-foot-wide road, without so much as a permit or a second thought.

We probably always have been cavalier about rearranging forests, rivers and even mountains. We just can’t see it in our own times.

Park City is where it is, and what it is, because a few white people in the 1860s, coming from California, guessed correctly that there was silver in these hills, and that it could be extracted, with sweat and capital, by moving vast amounts of earth and leaving the poisonous detritus in watersheds and waterways. One of them was the San Franciscan George Hearst, father of William Randolph Hearst and the Hearst fortune, who came to Park City, bought the Ontario silver mine, and skedaddled with millions.

Hearst, who leveraged that fortune into a U.S. Senate seat, was dead long before the environmental consequences of mining for metals in the West were known. And we’re still learning about them, as with Poison Creek, the subject of a story on the front page of today’s paper.

Before Park City’s Marsac mining mill got rolling, the clear little stream behind Main Street was known as Silver Creek and by one account was filled with trout just there for the human taking. If it wasn’t for mining, there would probably still be trout in that sparkling creek today — although it is not clear who would take them, because if it wasn’t for mining, it is unlikely that there would be people or a Park City here at all.


Editorial: Our hostages to fortune

That same snow is leaving the mule deer that share our valleys on the edge of starvation, a place that they know in their bones — and leading to people feeding them, a controversial practice even by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

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