Hundreds attend Sinks Canyon Master Plan informational meeting Monday

(Lander, WY) – Over 250 community members attended the Sinks Canyon Master Plan (SCMP) informational meeting organized by Wyoming State Parks on August 30th at the Lander Community Center.

This meeting was part of the implementation process for the SCMP – a guide that had not been updated since 1975. The 113-page final report was released in the fall of 2020 and identifies goals, vision, and strategy for Sinks Canyon’s next 20 years.

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The line to sign-in extends outside, County 10 Photo

Monday’s meeting included a review of how they arrived at the final version which started in the spring of 2019 and included two public workshops, four steering committee meetings, eight focus group meetings, created a project web portal and held a “zoom wrap up.” The plan itself was also reviewed and included project updates. The community was provided the opportunity to share their thoughts on the plan.

Feedback from the community was collected and will be available to the public on the SCMP page – no timeline for availability was mentioned. The comments will then be reviewed by stakeholders before moving to the final design review, according to the State Parks Master Plan Project Implementation Process.

The meeting briefly touched on items such as moving the Visitor’s Center to the Sawmill Campground area; Sunnyside Trail – a bike trail that connects the canyon; district creation – Sawmill, Rise, Sinks & Popo Agie; and wayfinding among others things.

The vast majority of time was centered around the proposed Sinks Canyon Via Ferrata (SCVF) – a cable and rung assisted climbing route that has created contention amongst community members in the past few months.

The plan’s guiding principles are listed as: “Keep the Canyon Wild” and “Leverage Economic Development.”

Wyoming State Parks shared the up-to-date steps taken for the SCVF during the meeting which include: identification in the SCMP, around $35,000 in private funding has been raised, the concept was reviewed by the Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WGFD), land and cultural surveys have been completed and cleared, and adaptive management strategies are identified.

They also noted volunteers plan to install it with state-of-the-art equipment, and once completed it will be given to Wyoming State Parks. The day-to-day operation will be through a concessionaire and State Parks will oversee the management.

The WGFD, who owns the property it is proposed to be built on, will work closely to manage wildlife impacts with mandatory closures since this is a Wildlife Habitat Management Area (WHMA).

The main wildlife concern raised by community members is a pair of peregrine falcons that annually nest on one of two walls at the mouth of the canyon – one happens to be the proposed location of the SCVF.

Below is the WGFD handout from the meeting about their plan for management (click the 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 for the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office (NATHPO), stated at the meeting that she had asked for their office to be part of the cultural survey in the beginning, but was never contacted.

The NATHPO is designated by the Northern Arapaho Business Council to protect cultural resources, she explained. What happens a lot is agencies come to them and say, “we’re notifying you that this is happening; this is what’s going on.” A checkmark that they’ve been notified.

“I remember a master plan meeting many years ago, that I was on a call, and I specifically said at that time, when you do the cultural resource survey, we need to have our tribal archaeological technicians on there, along with a survey to identify our cultural resources,” C’Bearing said. “Because a lot of times, what we find with our traditional ecological knowledge, is they don’t know what they’re looking for. When you see things out there that our elders and our tribal people see, a lot of academics miss about 75% of them. And so it’s very important that we’re involved in tribal surveys in these areas, and we were not included.

“I specifically said at that meeting, we wanted to be involved and wanted to participate. And then this happens all the time when the cultural resource inventory comes, the Class III when we read it, and then it says, there are no cultural findings. And to me, that’s disturbing. You know, it shouldn’t happen anymore. We’re no longer dumb Indians; we’re educated, we know what we’re doing. We have our elders beside us, who support us, who lead us and direct us. And so we have all this knowledge in our hands. And we can help the community figure out a better plan and how we can work together. And that’s all I ask from our tribe, is just an equal opportunity to get our voice and our narrative out there to help Sinks Canyon.”

L’Dawn Olsen brought up tribal consultation of the Historic Preservation Act which says:

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (link removed, replaced by Title 54 of the United States Code) requires tribal consultation in all steps of the process when a federal agency project or effort may affect historic properties that are either located on tribal lands, or when any Native American tribe or Native Hawaiian organization attaches religious or cultural significance to the historic property, regardless of the property’s location.

When such an undertaking occurs on tribal land, the federal agency must notify appropriate Native American tribes of the undertaking and give those tribal groups the opportunity to consult, should they wish to do so.

“We have not received that,” she said.

Eastern Shoshone Tribal Member Caroline Mills spoke on behalf of Mother Earth. She noted that the place is “for quiet and peace to be one with nature” and that won’t be possible with all of the people.

“And if one person spoke for our tribe at these meetings, that is not speaking for our tribe,” she explained. “We have a general counsel, that’s our form of government. So I will take it to our people put it on our general counsel agenda and speak to our people that way our tribe knows about 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 House District 54 Representative Lloyd Larsen, and Lander City Councilmember for Ward 2 Julia Stuble.

Jones and Larsen noted they support the SCVF because of its likelihood to help with Fremont County’s declining economy by bringing people here who may not normally visit or stay. They both praised the process and thought that it was transparent and thorough.

“In the past eight years, Fremont County has lost half of its tax base,” Jones said. “We’ve dropped from $1.1 billion to $560 million in our current budget in our property tax base. I believe that this specific plan represents responsible planning for the purposes of economic growth that balances economics with social impacts and natural resources.”

Case is opposed to it noting that this particular location not only holds personal memories of growing up here but is a historical place that should not have any kind of infrastructure, including what is already there at the Sawmill Campground. An alternative would be an already developed location by Bruce’s Campground.

Stuble also praised the process that has already occurred for the SCMP, and believes that community engagement and the impact studies are important and need to be considered. She also noted being in favor of the SCVF since this State Park is already a developed recreation area.

Members of the recently formed Citizens for Keeping Sinks Canyon Wild group spoke in opposition to it being on this particular location and impacting wildlife.

Member Ron Smith shared that working together would be key to move forward.

“I hope we can all agree that these issues can easily be solved if we can only come together in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration,” he said. “If we can make good on that effort, we will achieve the needed balance between enhanced recreational opportunities, while at the same time preserving the natural historical and cultural amenities for which the park is also known.”

Additional public commenters that evening agreed that the SCVF would be a great addition to the canyon, help the economy and provide a unique experience that isn’t common in the U.S. since there are few Via Ferratas.

One community member, Joan Dillon, explained that “this whole state is going to hell in a handbasket because of the lack of tourism and the lack of money. The budget isn’t there. You need to help it out. We’re talking about a dot on the canyon wall and everybody’s going nuts about it.”

WGFD Lander Region also had staff there to answer questions during breakout sessions that rounded out the evening. If questions or concerns were not answered in the presentation or comment period, they could be addressed then.

Meeting break out tables had a copy of the master plan as well as information on the new Sinks Canyon districts, County 10 Photo

County 10 did confirm with the WGFD that an application for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) approval process through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services (USFWS) has not been submitted yet. The submission is dependent on whether or not this 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 review of Monday’s meeting feedback.

State Parks Master Plan Project Implementation Process, County 10 Photo

The SCMP and additional resources provided by the Wyoming State Parks can be viewed here.

Both proponents and opponents to the proposed SCVF have social media pages: Sinks Canyon Via Ferrata and the Citizens for Keeping Sinks Canyon Wild.

County 10 will keep you updated with the latest SCVF coverage. Click here to view all of our coverage so far.

Editor’s note: A correction has been made to the following portion of a quote from Joan Dillon: “We’re talking about a dot on the canyon wall and everybody’s going nuts about it.”

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