SAVE OUR SPANS!
by Robert Moore
From SPAN March 1991
One of the objectives of NABS is the preservation of natural openings, and I recently agreed to write a short article on this subject for SPAN. Since I was having trouble organizing my thoughts and was feeling in need of inspiration, I packed up my camping gear and headed out into the desert.
Now I sit here below the gaze of the Eagle's Eye in far western Arizona on a chilly January evening. Eagle's Eye is what I would call a fully protected arch, both legally and physically, de jure and de facto. Although plainly visible from a major interstate highway, it is in a designated wilderness area, and reaching it requires a challenging hike. It sits serenely high atop a cliff, as appealing today as it was 500 years ago.
Not all arches are so lucky. My wife and I recently christened one span we visited on Navajoland "Modern Arch" for all the graffiti chiseled into the soft sandstone. Other beleaguered bridges play host to beer cans and disposable diapers. Still others have remained safe so far but face an increasingly uncertain future. Unfortunately, there is often nothing we can do to restore damage already done, but there is a lot we can do to prevent further abuse.
In fact, there are several ways we as arch enthusiasts can help preserve and protect arches. Often this may involve little more than calling attention to a problem. Many state and federal outdoors agencies are under-staffed and they may be simply unaware that a nearby bridge is being used for local booze parties. Don't assume that someone else has notified the responsible authorities, and even if they have, action is more likely when you speak up as well. Why not volunteer to help clean and "de-graffiti" a worthy span, much as hiking clubs help with trail maintenance?
Another effective tactic is involvement in the planning process. It seems like government agencies are forever planning, publishing management plans, environmental impact statements, etc. Nearly all of these have public comment periods, andthe comments really are considered and can make a difference. Unfortunately, few people keep track of the various publications and dates from all the many agencies, so important opportunities are often overlooked.
Of course, NABS is eager to voice an opinion on any issue that involves arches. Our society has issued official statements in several such instances, such as our comments concerning the Rainbow Bridge National Monument Plan being studied by the Park Service. These NABS statements are considered carefully by many agencies as they represent the opinion of an "expert" group as opposed to that of a single individual.
While I have taken the responsibility to coordinate the efforts of NABS to issue such "official" statements, it is up to each of us to be aware, if possible, of the current goings-on in our part of the world. The eyes and ears of NABS are our individual members, and we rely on them to enlist the support of others, including the Society when it is warranted. When you become aware of any such situation, please don't hesitate to contact us so that NABS may become involved in an "official" capacity.
When a worthy span is not receiving the recognition or protection it deserves, it may be possible for us (individually or as a group) to initiate action that may change things. There are a number of designations which enhance the legal status and security of a worthy area, call attention to the place and increase public awareness and appreciation. These include state, county or local parks, Registered Natural Landmarks, ACEC's (Areas of Critical Environmental Concern) and several others. Designation need not involve an act of Congress, and many private groups (such as the Nature Conservancy and the Sierra Club) frequently offer recommendations to government or local agencies regarding candidate areas for preservation.
As a society, NABS has made such recommendations to a small extent, and I trust we can expand these efforts with your help. I'm thinking right now of a beautiful arch not far from where I'm camping: Royal Arch, the Sonoran Desert's answer to Delicate Arch. Although not in imminent danger because of its remoteness, it is legally undefended and could well benefit from a formal designation. Many of you are probably aware of similar spans. We need to know about them, and hopefully take some sort of preventative action before it's too late.
Hopefully, most arches are not under siege, and we don't need to fight constant battles. But there will always be something we can do, as individuals or as a group, to keep the arches we enjoy as nice as they are today.