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February 23, 2005



Property in Mt Charleston the Forrest Service owns and hopes to develop for parking and visitor services.

PLASKON: Senator Harry Reid says that Mount Charleston is a jewel.

REID: It is remarkable, just a few miles from the Las Vegas strip, there is a 12 thousand foot mountain here.

PLASKON: Reid organized the first presidential session to protect Lake Tahoe decades ago, and yesterday he held a similar event to focus on protecting Mt Charleston. Deputy Forest Service Supervisor Stephanie Phillips knows the challenge.

PHILLIPS: We literally have 1.6 million visitors at our door step.

PLASKON: The area is visited nearly 2 million times every year according to a recent Forrest Service Commissioned study. She put up slides showing that on New Year's Day this year alone, people who wanted to play in the snow drove 6-thousand, 600 cars up Mt Charleston's one lane road.

PHILLIPS: I think the Law Enforcement officer feel like it is anarchy, and I heard that the tow truck drivers had trouble getting people up here. It was just gridlock.

PLASKON: The Forrest Service has lots of money to alleviate such problems because it's funded through a unique law allowing for the sale of public land called the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, or SNPLMA. It's flawed though says Phillips.

PHILLIPS: But while SNPLMA has made significant dollars available for new facilities operations is still going to be a challenge because we can not use funds for operations and maintenance.

PLASKON: According to Forrest service attorneys, the law doesn't allow for operations funding. And without money to operate new facilities, the Forrest Service is reluctant to build them. Phillips asked Senator Ensign if the bill could be changed. Ensign said no, now the Bush Administration wants the money.

ENSIGN: If we open it up they can come after the funding. We may be precluded from doing something like that, opening the bill up at all allows them to do something like taking 70 percent of the money.

PLASKON: Forrest Service representatives said however that under the current funding structure the Forest Service can start a Mt Charleston shuttle system to reduce traffic congestion, but it would have to be self sufficient, meaning it would charge fees. And the soonest the public could see major changes in construction and service at Mt Charleston is two years. Meanwhile, some Mt Charleston residents like Dennis Lovell Mt Charleston feel trapped.

LOVELL: Trying to get to and from town, We just don't go to town anymore because the traffic is so heavy.

PLASKON: He doesn't like the trash people leave behind either. In just the first six months of operation Mt Charleston litter control has collected more than 17-thousand pounds of garbage from the wilderness.

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR

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