Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Local activists head to D.C. to push for Fort Ord National Monument.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
With more than 60 public agencies and a dozen-plus citizens’ groups claiming a stake in the former Fort Ord, consensus on how to manage it is as rare as the black legless lizard. So the solidarity in a push to designate up to 14,650 acres as a national monument is something of a shocker; stakeholders from Fort Ord Reuse Authority to the Sierra Club are asking the feds to protect the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Ford Ord acreage in perpetuity.
Next week, local activists Henrietta Stern of FORT Friends and Gordon Smith of Keep Fort Ord Wild are hoping to find as much agreement among the many federal agencies with a hand in the designation. At the invitation of the Conservation Lands Foundation, Stern and Smith are headed to Washington, D.C., from Jan. 30-Feb. 2. “The issue is making sure people understand why the public land needs to be protected,” foundation spokeswoman Meghan Kissell says.
Smith, a veteran who’s been hiking Fort Ord since his 15-year-old border collie was a pup, says wild open space can help heal traumatic-injury patients of the nearby VA Clinic. “Get out in nature and hike, bike, wheelchair, whatever,” he says. “It’s therapeutically proven.”
Stern will represent Fort Ord’s recreational users. She says the agenda includes a half-dozen meetings with federal officials, including the offices of California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
National monument status can be conferred by Presidential proclamation under the 1906 Antiquities Act, so broad-based federal support is key. Stern encourages supporters to contact their representatives, emphasizing Fort Ord’s historical, habitat, recreational, scientific and economic values. “The best way the public can appreciate this legacy is to visit and enjoy the lands,” she says.
BLM spokeswoman Erin Curtis says the designation would give Fort Ord greater public visibility, create new federal funding opportunities and close it to resource extraction, while keeping it open to non-motorized rec uses like mountain biking and horseback riding.
Stern and Smith’s trip to D.C. follows U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s Jan. 13 visit to Fort Ord with BLM staff and federal dignitaries. At a sweeping vista point called Wildcat Ridge, he took in a 360-degree view overlooking the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Fort Ord Dunes State Park, Pinnacles National Monument and Los Padres National Forest.
Afterward, Salazar heard from more than 100 locals during a crowded public listening session at the Carpenter’s Union local in Marina. Smith presented Salazar with a letter of support signed by 36 vets, many of whom trained at Fort Ord before deploying to Vietnam. “I suggested he humanize it and call it the Fort Ord Soldiers National Monument,” Smith says.
Salazar’s visit was part of President Barack Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, which supports local efforts to protect places of historic and cultural meaning. The 86 trail and road miles now open on Fort Ord wend through coastal prairie, maritime chaparral and oak woodlands rife with Native American and military significance.
County Supervisor Dave Potter, who’s sat on the FORA Board since its 1994 inception, plans to introduce a Board of Supervisors resolution in support of the designation.