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Mineral King's long road to wilderness

March 26, 2009 |  5:19 pm


When Congress created an additional 2 million acres of wilderness Wednesday, it brought to a close one of California's more memorable conservation sagas: the fight over a chiseled High Sierra valley called Mineral King.

In the 1960s, Walt Disney Productions unveiled plans for a $35-million resort development in the valley, then a popular hiking area in the Sequoia National Forest. Disney called the valley and its surrounding alpine bowls one of the most beautiful spots he had ever seen. He just thought it could use a few things -- like a village of shops and hotels, gondolas, ski slopes and underground parking.

The U.S. Forest Service, which would have leased the land to Disney, approved the company's master plan in 1969. But in a move that would help shape strategy for the modern environmental movement, the Sierra Club that same year filed a lawsuit to block the development.

That was the beginning of what remains a favorite and often successful tactic for environmental groups: Go to court.


The lawsuit slowed the project enough so that it lost momentum. Its final death throes came in 1978, when Congress added Mineral King to nearby Sequoia National Park and specifically prohibited downhill ski facilities.

In the '60s, conservationists lobbied to make the scenic valley part of the country's new wilderness system. This week they finally got their wish. The 700,000 acres of California wilderness designated by the big lands bill headed for President Obama's desk includes Mineral King, part of the new John Krebs Wilderness, named for the former congressman who wrote the law transferring the valley to the National Park Service.

--Bettina Boxall

Photo: A view of Mineral King Valley. Credit: Vani Rangachar / Los Angeles Times