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Building on public land should be a benefit to everyone

Common GroundBill KightGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

We had tried to make it up to the cabin earlier in the year, but the snowdrifts under the trees above 10,000 feet became too deep, and we turned back.But last week, the law enforcement officer, I and another archaeologist made it up very steep terrain to what was left of the squatter’s cabin.Caught building a private cabin on federal land, Mr. Mountain Man, as we shall call him, was told to remove the small five-log-high structure. He did so with snow still covering the ground, pushing the logs over a cliff.What was left was anything but the likes of a mountain man’s home. There was trash everywhere. Things like the see-through plastic containers that come with donuts or muffins from the local supermarket.Apparently, the intruder into Mother Nature’s realm wanted to get away from civilization, but ended up taking some of it with him.

Call him a free spirit, pilgrim, rebel or whatever – he ended up a litterbug, another person trashing public land.What the three of us went to investigate was whether our mountain man destroyed a cultural resource in the process of building his dwelling. Luckily for him, this wasn’t the case.Had he altered, defaced or destroyed a cultural resource 100 years or older, he could have faced stiff penalties under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act – ARPA for short.On the same day we went up the mountain to make sure the trespass cabin had been properly removed, we also looked at another illegal action.This time, a few folks decided they could, on their own, “fix up” a historic cabin on federal land. No permits applied for, no preservation plan submitted, nothing.

Tattered sheets of plastic partially covering the roof were flapping in the breeze when we arrived at the site. Globs of sealing foam hung from between the logs inside.It was apparent that no interest in or knowledge of proper rehabilitation standards for historic buildings came into play. Our “fixer-uppers” just wanted a place in which they could enjoy the great outdoors.It’s a long drawn-out and expensive process to properly redo a historic cabin.Ask the folks from the nonprofit Cayton Ranger Station Foundation, who are working with the Forest Service, how hard it is to do things the right way.First, there is the building’s foundation that needs fixing. Even with volunteer help, that will cost thousands of dollars. Then count the federal dollars from the Forest Service that were needed to contract out the roof repair. Add about $20,000.



Over the next couple of years when all the sweat equity is done, the Cayton Ranger Station Foundation will help manage the site for public use. Everyone will benefit from their hard work.But our Mr. Mountain Man and our fixer-uppers didn’t take time to do things right, and the effort they expended was for naught.Time that could have been used working with volunteers on the Cayton Ranger Station was instead spent correcting others’ mistakes.With almost 30 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.


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