Lassen Park got a good deal out of a writer’s illegal visit

My favorite CN&R essay in recent memory is contributor Allan Stellar’s Nov. 7 Cover feature chronicling his solo trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park during the government shutdown. I’ve heard from many readers who enjoyed the piece immensely, three of whom wrote letters to the editor.

I also received two letters from some less enthusiastic readers, both of whom chided me for printing the essay. They called Stellar a “renegade” and a “nut job,” and me irresponsible.

Those two likely will be overjoyed to find out that an officer from Lassen Park tracked down Stellar over the weekend and cited him to the tune of $250 (see “Perils of journalism,” Newslines, page 9).

That’s right, readers. After re-opening Lassen Park to the public, one of the priorities of the powers that be was to have an officer make a four-hour round-trip trek to Stellar’s home in Butte County’s eastern foothills nearly two months after he camped out on Mount Harkness. I have just one question for them: Did they actually read Allan Stellar’s essay?

I ask this because, if they had read the story, I’m pretty sure it would be clear that Stellar was there to help readers reconnect with nature and to draw a connection between Lassen Park and his environmental hero, Edward Abbey, author of Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang, who spent time as a fire lookout on Mount Harkness.

Stellar had been trying for some time to get a special permit to spend the night on that mountain. His first holdup was the bureaucratic red tape associated with such an endeavor. Then came the shutdown, threatening to squash it entirely. Stellar wasn’t having that. He borrowed a page from Edward Abbey’s book and crossed into closed-down Lassen Park.

One reader I spoke with really took offense. Stellar was, in essence, giving the park the middle finger, he said. I disagree. If Stellar was flipping the bird at anyone, it was very likely Congressman Doug LaMalfa and the other recalcitrant House Republicans who kept the shutdown in effect for 16 days.

According to figures released by the office of Darlene M. Koontz, superintendent of Lassen Volcanic National Park, the park stood to lose about $1,600 per day in entrance and camping fees during the shutdown.

Stellar’s $250 in citations won’t do much to fill the coffers, although his story very likely will help. With the CN&R’s more than 100,000 print readers, it has the potential to inspire a new generation of local environmentalists, those who’ve just discovered Edward Abbey, to visit the region. Then there’s the power of the Internet—how Lassen officials came upon the story—where Stellar’s essay will, in perpetuity, live on to draw longtime Abbey admirers to Lassen Park as well.

Seems to me Lassen Park got a good deal. If anything, officials there should be grateful.

That’s why it seems unfair that Stellar should have to spend a dime. If you agree, and you’d like to lessen the burden, you can send a donation to Allan Stellar, in care of the CN&R, 353 E. Second St., Chico, CA 95928.