The Planted Row: The value of a mountain

Stan Wise
Farm Forum Editor

What is the value of a mountain?

I suppose the answer to that question depends on whom you ask. Some might answer that question with more questions. What’s under the mountain? How many housing lots will it support? Does it have valuable timber?

I’m not one of those people.

When I was a kid, our family vacations usually ended up in the mountains. What can I say? My dad isn’t really a beach kind of guy.

One stop along the way was usually Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tenn. There’s a military park on the mountain commemorating the Civil War battle that took place there (the same battle where my great-great-great grandfather was captured). However, most of the top of the mountain is occupied by opulent and meticulously landscaped homes. They block many of the best views, which are reserved solely for their occupants and guests. As a kid, I can remember driving past them, wondering when a great mountain view might open up, only to be greeted by more houses.

Thankfully, our vacations seldom ended at Chattanooga. We would continue on to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There were no houses there — just trails and streams and magnificent mountain views. If we wanted to go off the trail and explore parts of the park rarely seen by others, there was nothing to stop us — especially not some rich person’s perfectly manicured lawn.

At the time, I didn’t realize the implications in the differences between the two places. This summer, after taking my kids to the Smokies for the first time, I couldn’t fail to recognize the significance.

As we hiked up to the highest point in the Smokies at sunset and my family marveled at the unspeakable beauty unfolding before us, I realized that we would not have been able to enjoy that experience had not some people with excellent foresight decided to designate that mountain and the surrounding areas a national park. Because it is a national park, the area is safe from all development. Without that designation, the place where our hearts and souls were filled with the wonder and majesty of our amazing planet would likely be someone’s back porch or part of a logging operation. Those views wouldn’t be open to families like mine.

Making that area a national park couldn’t have been a painless process. There were people who wanted to develop those lands for homes, farms and minerals. Yet, there were lawmakers with the conviction to deny them that chance so that future generations of Americans could experience the unspoiled natural beauty of their country.

I am thankful for their courage and resolution.

I know my opinion isn’t shared by everyone in the agriculture industry. There are many who applauded the Trump Administration’s shrinking of two national monuments in Utah.

I am not among them. I am not a fan of making a profit today by sacrificing the future. Companies might be able to mine natural resources on those lands today, but they will be spoiled for future generations.

Yes, our country should be productive. However, we must be careful to preserve areas of great natural beauty and of historical, ecological and cultural significance so that future generations can know what our magnificent country was like before it was developed.

History is important — even the history of land.

What’s the value of a mountain?

To me, it’s the smile on my daughter’s and your daughter’s face as she looks over vast swaths of unspoiled natural beauty. All the timber and minerals and real estate deals in the world can’t buy that.