A fence or an ambulance
A classic G. George Ostrom column from 2006.
The Highline Trail to Granite Park was opened June 19th this year and this is the first time in quite awhile the “Over the Hill Gang” didn’t dig it out. That trail may be the finest mountain hike in America…or even the world, but it can be a bit scary at Oberlin bend where the snow really builds up over the winter. To make things easier for opening the trail each spring the Park Service usually blasts the worst of that snow away before shovelers are sent in to clear the footpath. They did that this year; HOWEVER, one spring, maybe 1999, they didn’t do the snow blast before we shoveled it out. When I asked Chief Ranger Steve Frye to explain, he said, “Well, we had a conference down at Park headquarters and it was agreed that we wouldn’t blast this year because, without a blast ditch to catch them in, it would be likely that any of those old guys who slipped would slide all the way down to the Going-to-the Sun Highway and it is a lot easier to give first aid on the road.”
Discussing this matter with Elmer Searle, oldest active gang member, he told me a poem called “A Fence or an Ambulance.” I’ve forgotten the author but here is part of it. When I find the author I’ll give credit.
‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally;
Some said, “Put a fence around the edge of the cliff.”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”
But the cry for the ambulance carried the day,
For it spread through the neighboring city;
A fence may be useful or not, it is true
But each heart be a brimful of pity
For those who slipped over the dangerous cliff,
And the dwellers in highway and alley
Gave pounds or gave pence, not to put up a fence
But an ambulance down in the valley.
For the cliff is all right, if you’re careful, they said,
And if folks even slip and are dropping,
It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much
As the shock down below when they’re stopping.
Then an old sage remarked: It’s a marvel to me
That people give far more attention
To repairing results than to stopping the cause
When they’d much better aim at prevention.
Let us stop at its source all this mischief, cried he.
Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally;
If the cliff we will fence we might almost dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley.
There is more to this poem but I’ve put enough of it here to make a subtle point … about land management in general. See ya next week.