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GREAT BASIN VISITORS URGE PRESERVATION

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The nation's youngest national park has barely taken its first steps and already visitors are worrying like overprotective parents about the future of its soaring mountains, 4,000-year-old trees and mysterious caves.

Al Hendricks, supervisor of Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada, said more than 600 people commented on a proposed 10-year management plan and most called for restraint in improving the park."The comments we received tended quite heavily toward protection and preservation," Hendricks said of the plan that was supposed to go to Congress this month, three years after the 77,109-acre park's dedication Oct. 27, 1986.

"For the most part, people are not looking to build water slides, pave things over," he added, saying several people commented "they didn't want Great Basin to turn into a Yosemite, which is over-developed. There's even a bank in Yosemite. It's practically a small city."

"People like things mostly the way they are at Great Basin and we hope to keep it that way."

Attendance is still small at the rural park. Its 75,000 visitors last year was an 83 percent increase from the 41,000 visitors in 1986. Hendricks said park attendance is expected to be about 75,000 again this year. More than 3.3 million people crowded into 761,757-acre Yosemite National Park in 1988.

"We are remote," Hendricks explained. "You kind of have to think twice about getting in the car and driving out here. But it's worth it. It's one of the last preserved places in the Great Basin."

Responses to the plan were compiled for the final plan document, which won't be ready to submit to Congress for about another year, despite this month's proposed deadline.

Most agree with Hendricks about conserving the natural beauty of the park.

"Great Basin is a gem: a small glimpse into the past that hasn't been trampled by the hand of man," said one anonymous visitor commenting on the plan. "I believe we should make every effort to preserve it as a testament to the old American West."

"Please do not go on a building spree, paving over paradise to put up parking lots," another said.

But amid the anti-development comments collected in 1987 were statements from recreational vehicle enthusiasts and urban dwellers who want creature comfort more than backwoods hardship when they commune with nature.

"If you make Wheeler Peak campground inaccessible to us we will lose all interest in Great Basin National Park," one operator of a 22-foot mobile home responded.

"Our RV was dirtier after a short visit to the park in June than in the rest of our 6,000-mile trip," complained one visitor. "Please pave major roads and camp areas. You have so much land that more should be developed."

Hendricks said the plan would emphasize preservation of the park, but also would include some new campgrounds and access ways for visitors.