MOUNT SHASTA, CALIF.
WHEN poet Michelle Berditschevsky travels up Everitt Memorial Highway on her way to the heights of Mt. Shasta, she sees ``a natural wonder,'' ``a sacred mountain,'' a silent wonderland that speaks to her of nature's mysteries. When Carl Martin gazes up at the same mountain, he envisions three ski lodges, seven chairlifts, happy skiers, and prosperity for the community that clings to the snowy skirt at Mt. Shasta's base. These differing perspectives have created a classic environmentalist-developer confrontation, which has been brewing for years here in California's northland.
Mr. Martin's proposal to build a recreational ski area on Mt. Shasta has generated so much controversy - including a recent appeal by the state attorney general - that it is being likened to the famous California battle two decades ago over the alpine valley of Mineral King. (In that case, the Sierra Club prevailed over plans by Walt Disney Productions to build a multimillion-dollar ski resort near Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevadas of central California.)
As with Mineral King, the United States Forest Service (USFS) again is the pivotal government agency in the dispute. Because the proposed Mt. Shasta Ski Area would sit on 1,290 acres of national forest land, the agency for six years has labored to complete an adequate assessment of the project's environmental impact. Now that the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has cleared the way for the ski area, the USFS is swathed deeper in appeals than Mt. Shasta is in snow.
While the outcome is of intense interest to the local citizens, people here on both sides recognize that much more is at stake than the future of one ski development on one scenic California mountain. To ski-area opponents like Ms. Berditschevsky, the issue is nothing less than ``making a stand for the values of the environment, for the sake of life on Earth that is mute and can't speak for itself - the wildlife, the mountain, and future generations.''
For ski-area advocates, on the other hand, it is a matter of reaffirming America's fundamental reliance on free enterprise. Mt. Shasta, they say, is just one more battleground in environmentalists' war against any sort of development - logging, mining, offshore oil drilling, or recreation - on public lands or in public waters.