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Stopping the Road: The Campaign Against the Trans-Sierra Highway
Book by: Jack Fisher, 2014

The Sager Group, 174 pp., paperback

Believe it or not, for many years, the idea of extending State Highway 203 past Mammoth Mountain Inn, down to Red Meadows, and then across the Sierra Nevada to Fresno was not only considered a good idea (on a statewide level), but a foregone conclusion.

Jack Fisher’s latest book, “Stopping The Road,” is a good illustration of how a few highly committed people can literally move mountains in order to not have mountains moved.

Fisher, 77, a second-homeowner here in Mammoth, is a retired academic surgeon, specializing in plastic and reconstructive surgery, who used to work/practice at U.C. San Diego.

Upon retirement from medicine, Fisher went back to school to get a Masters degree in history. “Stopping the Road” is his third book.

Fisher said he went in to this book with an idea that he wanted to write something related to the Eastern Sierra, and “Bob Schotz was the one who put me onto this story six years ago.”

The story begins with the man the book is dedicated to – Norman B. “Ike” Livermore.

In 1930, at the age of 19, while working as a mule packer, “Ike had camped at Pumice Flat near Reds Meadow. While picking up supplies at the nearby pack station, he learned of a road just built by a mining company for truck access. With federal funding, it was extended to Devils Postpile National Monument and then on to the pack station. ‘Seeing automobiles in a wilderness was like a stab in the heart,’ he later recalled.

“When a packer predicted the road was sure to continue westward across the entire range someday, Livermore promised himself to use whatever power he might acquire to stop that road.”

42 years later, as Governor Ronald Reagan’s Resources Secretary, Livermore was a key player in stopping the road and fulfilling that promise.

It was no gimme.

When the idea of putting another road across the Sierra at Mammoth was first brought up, there were ten highways crossing the range. The Two schools of thought:

Because there are ten, why not one more?

Because there are ten, why build another?

The original reasons for building the road must be placed in historical context.

At the time, in the throes of the Cold War and on the heels of World War II, where Eisenhower saw how the German war machine benefitted from the autobahns, the nation’s defense was one of the principal reasons forwarded for building the road.

As Madera County Supervisor Carl W. McCollister said: “The road was necessary to give people in the San Joaquin Valley their rightful highway outlet to the east should coastal cities become targets of nuclear attack.”

Ultimately, however, opponents of the road argued that the road was impractical and made zero business sense. Genny Smith, ringleader, organizer, activist, scribe who fought the road over nearly three decades, commented, “it was businessmen like Bob [Schotz] who made the difference. This road was a business proposition from the get-go and a poor one at that. He and his colleagues knew it and were willing to stand up and say so.”

But the guy who put the final nail in the coffin was, unexpectedly, Governor Reagan. And even his harshest critics, such as reporter George Skelton, had to give him credit.

“Stopping the Dos Rios dam and the Rrans-Sierra Highway woukld have been monumental achievements for any governor, let alone one who entered office with a reputation as a foe of the environment … Governor Reagan saved the rivers of the north coast, and he saved the John Muir Trail. It is a valuable legacy.”

Well-researched book, educational, entertaining … if you love this area, you’ll want to know this story.

Find a copy of Stopping The Road at the Booky Joint in Mammoth or Spellbinder Books in Bishop.

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