It was good to see the Laramie City Council’s discussion and consideration of a proposed long-term plan for land use at the Monolith Ranch. This important and valuable asset deserves serious study.
We are impressed with the ambitious yet realistic plans proposed by the Monolith Ranch Advisory Committee. The proposed plan balances the goals of maintaining the existing water rights, keeping a revenue flow from contracted ranching, working for additional development and increasing public access to some areas for recreation.
In 1981, Laramie purchased the ranch in order to acquire the senior water rights on the Laramie River. Since water rights must be used, the city leased the ranching operation in order to protect those rights. But there has been less emphasis in the past on potential recreation use or other development. Now, that appears to be changing.
We think that is a good trend, because public recreation should always be a consideration when deciding how to use public land. That’s not to say it should be the only consideration. For example, it would be impossible for a ranching operation to function if hikers, bikers or others were interrupting the work or bothering the livestock.
And there is always the question of the expense involved in creating safe recreational opportunities and ensuring public use doesn’t turn into public abuse. That has happened in other areas where illegal dumping, unregulated shooting and erosion caused by all-terrain vehicles has been very hard to control.
One of the immediate goals at the Monolith Ranch is the rehabilitation of the Goforth Reservoir. The dam creating the reservoir was breached in flooding during the 1980s and was never repaired. The historic right to store water from Harney Creek has been affected by not using the storage water right. When this was originally discussed, there was an assumption the reservoir would not be used for recreation. Now, the discussion seems to acknowledge some public access and use could be beneficial. But there would undoubtedly be some related expense if that were to happen.
The good news is the City Council is at least considering that as a possibility.
This whole question of how much public access to allow on public land is likely to become even more important in the future. If Albany County succeeds in purchasing a vast tract of land east of Laramie, the answer becomes even more relevant. In that case, the whole issue will be complicated by the fact that a large piece of the land is part of the recharge zone for the Casper Aquifer.
But protecting the aquifer shouldn’t mean closing off all of that land to any and all use. Certainly, use and development must be controlled and regulations enforced.
Recreation potential is part of the value of any public land purchase. Our decision makers need to make sure that potential is realized whenever possible.