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Posted 05 Dec 2001   For week ended November 23, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 01Dec01

By Paul Carter

Martin's Cove Sale Bill Stirs Debate

CASPER, WYOMING -- Proposed legislation to sell to the Church of Jesus Christ the Martin's Cove historic site 50 miles southwest of Casper is raising the objections and interest of government, American Indian, conservation and archaeology groups.

The site being proposed for sale is currently owned by the US Bureau of Land Management and is a national historic site. Located on the Sweetwater River near where the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails all converged, Martin's Cove is named for the leader of a group of handcart pioneers who were stranded in the Winter snows of 1856 as the group made their way to Salt Lake City. The Willey handcart company also took shelter in the same area from the same storms.

Many of the pioneer Saints in the group died in extreme cold, without adequate clothing, fuel and food. All the travelers in the groups likely would have perished if not for rescuers leaving their secure homes in the Salt Lake Valley and taking wagons and supplies to revive them and carry them to their destination.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints maintains a visitors center on the Sun Ranch, private land the Church owns adjacent to Martin's Cove. During the past four years and until recently, representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have been in discussions to obtain the Martin's Cove site for church ownership, by seeking a land swap with the Bureau of Land Management for another historic site. These talks have broken down and Wyoming legislators in both the US House and Senate have written a draft bill to require the BLM to sell the property to the Church.

Representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have expressed the concern that, given trends of the past 25 years in how government agencies limit access to public lands, the general public might not be able to visit the Martin's Cove site if it remains under BLM jurisdiction. The Church seeks to keep access open to the public through the purchase of the 640 acre parcel. Never before has a private organization attempted to buy a national historic site.

The Bureau of Land Management has gone on record saying that the forced sale of Martin's Cove would set a precedent for other special interests to obtain other government lands. An internal memo from the BLM office in Lander, Wyoming, states, "The transfer of Martin's Cove, due to its importance to the Mormon Church, establishes a potentially complex precedent. Other groups, such as Native Americans, could make the same point for a land transfer of (properties) they feel are central to their belief systems."

In addition, the BLM has stated that it is the best steward of the land for the American people.

American Indian groups have recently stated that they would see the sale of Martin's Cove through federal legislation as a door opening for their groups to purchase lands sacred to their tribes. These groups have also sought control of sites important to them or to at least control access to these sites. Private ownership would be desirable in providing total control.

Archeaological groups have also weighed in on the controversy, concerned that the sale of Martin's Cove might eliminate the possibilitity of performing archealogical analysis of the site.

The Sierra Club also has joined the fray. Liz Howell of the Wyoming chapter notes that there are several places in Wyoming alone that are sacred to American Indians. Among them are Devil's Tower National Monument, the Medicine Wheel National Historic Site and parts of the Red Desert in southwest Wyoming. Says Ms Howell, "This is a big-time trade-off. Congress can't work with one religion and not with others," she said.

Citizen groups in Casper have expressed concern that a decision that impacts land close to them might be carried out by legislators in Washington DC who do not have an understanding of what is best for the local citizenry.

In response to all of the opinions being voiced or asking to be heard, the office of US Representative Barbara Cubin has stated that public hearings on the proposed legislation will be held within two weeks. "No bill will be introduced by me unless adequate public comment has taken place. The people of Wyoming have my assurance of that," stated Wyoming's only Representative in the US House.

Wyomings two US Senators, Craig Thomas and Mike Enzi, have worked with Representative Cubin to draft identical legislation for both legislative bodies in Washington, proposing the sale of Martin's Cove to the Church.


Martin's Cove Proposal in Limbo
Salt Lake Tribune 16Nov01 D6
Associated Press

Thomas and Cubin assure public say in Martin's Cove
Casper WY Tribune (AP) 16Nov01 D1
Associated Press

Tourism up at Mormon Handcart Center
Casper WY Tribune (AP) 14Nov01 D1
Associated Press

Martin's Cove -- a local land use perspective
Uinta co WY Herald 14Nov01 D1
By Paulette Stevens: Herald Reporter

Where is Martin's Cove?
Casper WY Star-Tribune 9Nov01 N6
By Brodie Farquhar: Star-Tribune staff writer

Indians Say If LDS Can Buy, They Can, Too
Salt Lake Tribune 7Nov01 N6
Associated Press

Tribes look at Martin's Cove sale
Casper WY Tribune (AP) 6Nov01 D6
Associated Press

Devil's Gate given protective status
Casper WY Tribune (AP) 1Nov01 D6
Associated Press


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