Anger over clamped-down Lakes Basin

With the town full of Memorial Day visitors and the Lakes Basin mostly free of snow, Mammoth did what it normally does in an early shoulder season.


It took careful aim at its foot, then started blasting away.


“It’s inexcusable,” said Town Council candidate John Wentworth, who has been active in arriving at a series of understandings between the town and the U.S. Forest Service regarding management of the Lakes Basin.

“We as a community made a mistake.”


Wentworth, speaking at a Town Council Candidates Forum at the U.S. Forest Service auditorium at the Welcome Center on Tuesday evening, May 27, was not alone in his ire.


“It is not the image we want to show,” said fellow candidate Shields Richardson, visibly holding back his anger.


From the audience, current Town Council member John Eastman, who is not seeking re-election, challenged the candidates to say what they’d do in these situations.


That drew a response from candidate Deb Pierrel, who took about a tenth of a second to remind Eastman that he is on the current council, and he himself maybe ought to have a few ideas about a solution or two.


Also from the audience were other tales of Lakes Basin woe, from residents who arrived at Horseshoe Lake, only to find the restrooms locked.


Other audience members told of thinking they had a great opportunity for a good holiday dog walk, only to find the gates closed, despite practically no snow on the ground, and the campgrounds clamped down also.


It is an old issue that comes up practically every time a shoulder season comes around.


The National Forest Service contracts the campgrounds to an independent concessionaire. Therefore, argues the Forest Service, opening the campgrounds and restrooms is dependent on the concessionaire.


Jon Kazmierski, the recreation manager for the Mammoth Lakes Ranger District, said last fall that until seasonal employees showed up, there is no USFS staff available to maintain the Lakes Basin amenities.


The town, meanwhile, has no such jurisdiction for the campgrounds or the closures, and is dependent on the Forest Service.


It all adds up to a semiannual SNAFU, with the losers being visitors and residents who may have wanted to experience the pristine beauty of the Lakes Basin, only to find the gates locked, trash thrown all over the place (most of the dumpsters are locked), along with canine and human waste lying in big, stinky piles of poop, here and there.


No one goes more haywire over the lockdowns than Wildlife Specialist Steve Searles, who earlier in the day had steam coming out of his ears over the closings, as he has each shoulder season for years.


“I saw thousands of people coming to our Lakes Basin, to the crown jewel of this area, and the gate to Horseshoe was chained shut, the back gate from Old Mammoth was chained shut, and there were huge issue with parking,” he said.


“It detracted from the experience, that is for sure,” he said.


“Was it necessary? I don’t think so. I had many calls about this. 


“In my opinion, the town should not be bringing people here if they cannot guarantee they can take care of them once they are here.


“It was a mess up there.”


“We understand the public’s frustration, but there are some serious infrastructure problems, such as leaks in the water and sewer near them, that prevented us from opening the Horseshoe area,” said Deb Schweitzer, the Inyo National Forest information officer.


“We tried to get as many places open, like Reds Meadow, as soon as possible and I’m proud of our employees, but we don’t have enough staff to do it all.” 


In the two years previous to this one, the Mammoth Lakes Trails System Coordinating Committee took hold of the issue, but that committee is to vanish in the wake of the formation of the Mammoth Lakes Recreation non-governmental organization.


In the chatty world of the Twittersphere, the whole thing added up to a massive, #mammothFAIL, with more than a #facepalm or two thrown in.