Illinois Group Has Eco-Friendly Vision for Arizona Snowbowl
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – A Glen Ellyn, Ill., organization has presented “a new vision” for the Arizona Snowbowl to Flagstaff city officials which includes a non-snow-making alternative that could lead to creation of “the most eco-friendly ski resort in the world.”
“We were asked to sponsor and facilitate the formation of a non-profit partnership that would purchase the permit and assets of Snowbowl and manage it as an eco-friendly ski resort, which means no snow-making in the process,” Drew Glassford, a founding member of Tribal Wisdom Foundation, said Tuesday.
The USDA Forest Service, which leases the land to the Arizona Snowbowl, granted permission for the use of reclaimed wastewater to make artificial snow at the ski resort, located on the San Francisco Peaks. The mountain is considered sacred by 13 Arizona Indian tribes.
The Flagstaff City Council will vote Aug. 30 on whether to amend a contract to sell either potable water or reclaimed wastewater to the Snowbowl for artificial snow-making. The foundation wants the city council to consider its no snow-making option as well.
Glassford said the new non-profit group that would be established would have an advisory board made up of traditional indigenous elders who would have significant input in the decision-making process on how the mountain would be used. “They would have the final authority. That's the intent of the partnership,” he said.
The group has not yet approached Snowbowl owner Eric Borowsky with an offer, according to Glassford. “We are in the process of acquiring commitments from the different tribes and conservation organizations in order to be able to fund it. At the point that we feel that we have the funding secured, then we will approach Mr. Borowsky's group.”
Glassford said the foundation has had discussions with both the Executive and Legislative Branches of the Navajo Nation regarding the proposal. “I can't yet release the form of commitment that we have received from them, but we will shortly,” he said. “We wouldn't have gone public if we didn't feel that we had significant support that was needed.”
George Hardeen, communications director for President Joe Shirley Jr., said, “Nobody's mentioned it to me. That idea has been floated around, but the Navajo Nation is facing a $22 million deficit. I don't know where we'd come up with any money.”
Former Hopi Tribal Chairman Ben Nuvamsa, who is on the foundation's list of potential advisers for the project, said he believes both Hopi and Navajo should study the merits of the proposal and see whether an agreement can be reached.
“The Peaks are our sacred mountain where the Katsinas live. It's really essential to our culture, our way of life. In a perfect world there shouldn't be any skiing. The purity and the sanctity of the mountain has been interrupted already, so what's a middle ground or a compromise? I think that's what this is about.
“The Hopi perspective is we oppose any form of artificial snow,” Nuvamsa said, adding that the Tribal Wisdom Foundation is offering to continue the ski resort, but allow the snow to come naturally. “I think there is a fair middle ground that can be reached if the city would listen, if the Forest Service would listen, and if Borowsky would listen.”
He said the Hopi have some real issues with any kind of artificial snow, not only based on their culture and beliefs, but health-wise and environmentally as well.
“I'm sure there are a number of people that live in the Flagstaff area that are concerned about their domestic water source,” he said, adding that he lived in Flagstaff a number of years and there was always concern about the dwindling water supply.
“The part I have a problem with is paying for a permit. It's kind of like buying our sacred mountain back. I don't know where the money would come from,” he said, but added that if there is any way to preserve the sacredness of the mountain while protecting the water supply for Flagstaff, “I think it would be a good thing.”
According to the foundation, the “no snow-making” alternative involves creating a collaborative effort between the city, indigenous nations, conservation organizations, the ski industry, and the USDA to protect water sources, cultural resources, and the natural environment.
In an Aug. 2 letter addressed to the Flagstaff mayor, city council and Flagstaff residents, Beth Huss, secretary, said the Tribal Wisdom Foundation has financially supported indigenous people at local, regional and national levels to
have their voices heard.
One meeting was held April 16 with President Obama as he signed the America’s Great Outdoors Presidential Memorandum to encourage local and state governments, tribes, and private groups to come together in the spirit of collaboration to be more responsible stewards of both tax dollars and natural world, Huss said.
“We invite you to consider this non-profit alternative and its benefits to the Flagstaff residents in-depth prior to your decision to allow the use of potable water, reclaimed water, or recovered-reclaimed water for snow-making at Snowbowl.”
According to the foundation, if a non-profit group is created to manage the Snowbowl, making a profit would no longer be an issue and artificial snow would not be used. Flagstaff would maintain its potable water for its own use and potentially hazardous reclaimed wastewater would not be introduced into the mountain’s eco-system.
“We feel this proposal offers the opportunity for the mayor and city council of Flagstaff to create a legacy of significant future benefit, rather than one of perpetual controversy and potential future liability,” Huss said.
Citizens would have a model resort to enjoy outdoor activities, the cultural resources of indigenous peoples would be protected, tourists would be intrigued, and Flagstaff would be seen as a city looking toward a positive future for all its citizens by protecting their water resources, the environment and cultural needs, according to the foundation.
Kevin Ordean, chair of the Northern Arizona University Student Environmental Caucus and President of the NAU Campus Climate Challenge, voiced his support for the alternative.
“With the global trend toward sustainability, and the many majors and focus areas at Northern Arizona University, an eco-friendly ski resort in close proximity to the campus would allow for an active engagement between the resort and the university,” he said.
Glassford said members of the foundation have talked to the mayor and vice mayor about the proposal and will have a representative at the Aug. 30 meeting to answer questions. The public meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at Sinagua High School, 3950 E. Butler Ave.
Tribal Wisdom Foundation, a not-for-profit organization supporting traditional indigenous lifeways and the natural environment, was established by a group of non-native adult students enrolled in the Native American Studies Program at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill. The foundation is comprised of teachers, administrators, therapists and business professionals.
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