MAMMOTH LAKES — If there is one thing the National Forest Service and local politicians agree on it's the need for a more diversified economic base in this eastern Sierra resort town.
Shopkeepers and others dependent on the sportsman for their livelihood cannot prosper on skiers alone, and summer-fall visitors currently do not contribute much to local coffers. A new Inyo Forest Land Management Plan, due to be off the presses about May 1, should provide some guidelines for remedying the situation, according to Dennis Martin, supervisor of Inyo National Forest.
"We need to balance out recreational opportunities the year around and provide for more use of the forest outside of the wilderness area," Martin said in an interview. Government hearings, reports and appeals tend to cause lengthy delays for developers, he admitted, but said the Forest Service is "streamlining" appeal regulations.
At the same time, he stressed the Forest Service's concern with the impact of developments on wildlife and the need for water conservation. He said the government is studying proposals for golf courses and a wild fishery, efforts to expand recreation opportunities.
Martin said a final decision on the Sherwin Bowl ski area development plan should be forthcoming by August of this year. A 45-day appeal period follows.
"We're talking about early winter before the developers can obtain a use permit and go ahead with the project," he said.
Dean McAlister, district ranger for Mammoth Lakes, echoed Martin's sentiments regarding the need to work with the county and town on improving the economy.
"Alternative recreation forms must be sought to bring a different type of visitor to the area," he said, adding that the Forest Service endorses the general plan of the town and its resort association.
Speaking for the Friends of Inyo, an environmental group, Larry Freilich of Bishop, about 40 miles east of Mammoth Lakes, contends that the resort town has had a problem with overall planning. "Many developments were planned as if they were in Southern California, when in reality they are out of character for a winter resort," Freilich said in an interview.
He said he and his organization are opposed to the development of the Sherwin Bowl and San Joaquin Ridge ski areas (the latter area is between the Mammoth and June ski resorts). "Bigger ski areas do not help the economy," he said.
A former resident of Mammoth Lakes, Freilich called a snow-based economy an "unstable economy," calling instead for a more diversified use of the forest, but at the same time urging more access for cross-country skiers.