Showdown in Utah: Bulldozers vs. Paragliders

I find this an improbably compelling story. 


Short version: a unique natural mountain configuration has made a site in Utah the best place in America for one particular pursuit. The pursuit is paragliding, and the location, Point of the Mountain south of Salt Lake City, has a very unusual combination of topography and natural windflow that makes it a perfect soaring spot. Point of the Mountain has attracted devotees from around the world, as shown below, and built a substantial tourist economy. But to get more gravel, a mining company has for the past ten days been bulldozing away the very ridgeline that is the basis for this world-renowned activity -- as if earth-movers started chewing up a famous skiing slope or dredging sand from Malibu or Waikiki. It's the familiar story of mountain-top removal mining, in a new setting with new effects.

UtahGlider.jpg

Now the details. Matthew Amend, of Seattle, a glider pilot, sends this report: 
Point of the Mountain is a paragliding and hang-gliding site located on a ridge just a few miles south of Salt Lake City. More free-flight pilots have earned their wings there than any other site in the USA. It has been such a part of the culture there for decades that it was designated as a Flight Park years ago, but that apparently is of no concern to a mining corporation which-- with no warning-- began strip-mining the site a couple days ago.... 

The bulldozers are just enormous. People woke up in the morning and saw the mountain had literally changed shape overnight. Hang-gliding and paragliding are still relatively unknown to the public. Imagine general aviation pilots losing Oshkosh, surfers losing Maui, climbers losing Yosemite, skiers losing Vail... much of the general public would grasp the significance. The Point is like that for free-flight pilots.
 
To me it's another demoralizing example of "Capital don't give a sh*t". It's not that capitalism as we practice it immoral or evil, any more than a swarm of locusts is. It's just amoral and relentless, remorseless.  I've come to think of capitol as being like Plutonium: incredibly powerful and useful, but it needs to be carefully managed and contained, and for God's sake don't allow madmen to get their hands on it.
 
Well, as if you need me to tell you that. You've experienced what it's done to China's air, water, and soil.
Here's a dramatic video made by people appealing to stop the strip-mining, and here's a petition [new link here] to local authorities and the mining company, Geneva Rock. The petition has now reached its target number of signatures, but its argument is very interesting and depressing. UPDATE There's a new petition still looking for signatures. Local news coverage is here, and here is a friends-of-the-mountain link. 
 

This is far from the biggest environmental choice or crisis America faces, but it symbolizes the many others constantly going on. You can fill in the rest of the argument and implications yourselves. 

By the way, the Geneva Rock company is privately owned by a local Utah family, and it prides itself on its commitment to sustainability. Eg: "Sustainability means building for today and tomorrow without depleting future resources. Geneva Rock Products, Inc. seeks to balance the economic, social and environmental impacts of construction today with the understanding that such work will have an effect on the future." Its spokesmen have even said that they want to consider the gliders' concerns. I've asked the company about the latest showdown and will report back when I get their response.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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