Sunday, November 22, 2009

MONTE WOLFE REVISITED

An anonymous comment came in my message box about the supposed illegality of the Amador County Forest Service officials removing a door and chimney of the Monte Wolfe cabin in the deep river canyons of the Mokelumne. I blogged about Monte Wolfe three times in March of this year which relates the escapades of a venerable Mountain Man and his disappearance. He lived by himself in the rugged canyons of the Sierra Nevadas. He built cabins in three counties and roamed Amador, Alpine,Tuolumne and Calaveras Counties at will. He built single log bridges to cross the rivers for his own convenience and set out caches so he could range where ever he wanted to go. He built and maintained a fish trap to mine those rivers, planted potatoes, hired out as a mountain guide and socialized with hikers, hunters, forest service officials and locals living near by. He became a legend after his disappearance.

The photo above is of one of his small cabins. His main cabin was in Calaveras County.
After Monte Wolfe's disappearance, his main cabin was kept in repair by a group of interested citizens from Calaveras County calling themselves The Friends of Monte Wolfe Society. I'm told, members of that group still maintain his cabin. The trail is difficult to find, but Monte hasn't been forgotten. People still remember him, his haunts and wonder what could have happened to him because no trace of Monte was ever found.
In Amador County, a group also formed to maintain his cabin on the Moke. Members met with the Forest Service in 1962 and signed an agreement. However, in 1964, the Congressional Wilderness Act was signed into law to maintain or manage wilderness as pristine. That means no trails, no structures, no mechanical devices, etc. The cabin was over fifty years old and considered historical. It was documented and went through the preservation office and evaluated. The finding was that the Wolfe cabin was eligible for the National Historic Register. I spoke with Marilyn Meyer, from the U.S. Forest Service at length about this.
There is a "next step" after eligibility to preserve a structure. That next step was never taken. The 9th Circuit Court then ruled on dams and wilderness and defines wilderness as (paraphrased) ... magnificent works of nature to be kept as pristine without the interference of man...
In a nutshell, the forest service, by law, must allow the dams, and structures, such as the cabin to deteriorate and become one with nature again.
I queried her about this, knowing that the 9th Circuit Court was taking aim at the dams, not Monte's cabin. But the law paints with a broad brush.
I find it sad that we can't (the way the current law is now written) still preserve Monte's cabin. Then I asked her why the U.S. Forest Service was hastening the deterioration by removing a door and chimney to the cabin?
It seems the very people who want to maintain the cabin have decided they should have it for their own personal use. They've cut forest service locks on the cabin door and brought in their own locks. Brought in plastic pipe to pipe water, set fires in the stove, brought in pesticide sprays, carved their initials in the cabin post and walls. While the archetecture of the cabin is unique and admirable, the people who have made alterations do not appreciate that historic buildings are not altered. They are maintained as they were.

The destiny of the cabin is deterioration. Sad as that is, it won't affect the legend that is Monte Wolfe. Don de Young has a book coming out about Monte with much new information about his life. I'll be sure and let you know when it is available. And who knows, maybe the preservation group will investigate legal options to see if the cabin can legally be preserved and become a National Monument.

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