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Politics and Government Archival Collections in USC Libraries Special Collections: Mineral King Development

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Introduction

Mineral King is a glacial valley in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains, only 7 1/2 square miles in size and one of the oldest communities in the High Sierras. During the 1960s, Mineral King was the battleground between conservationists (including the Sierra Club) and Walt Disney Enterprises, Inc. which proposed to develop the area into a $35 milliion dollar recreational complex with ski resort, motels, restaurants, swimming pools, parking lots, etc.  In the end, the Mineral King Valley was annexed into Sequoia National Park (in 1978) by an act of Congress, effectively stopping the plan to ever develop the area into a ski resort.

Historical Background

Mineral King is a glacial valley in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains, only 7 1/2 square miles in size and one of the oldest communities in the High Sierras. At one time, the area had been occupied by two Native American tribes-- the Wikchumni Yokut and the Tubatulabel-- who created summer settlements on the valley floor primarily for hunting and trading with the Paiutes, who lived east of the Sierra Nevada.

In the 1860s, the first Americans of European descent discovered the valley while building a toll trail from Visalia to Independence and began to mine for precious metals, leading to the discovery of silver in the Mineral King Valley in 1872. Following the discovery, the first road to Mineral King was created in 1873 by the Mineral King Wagon and Toll Road Company. Over time, the minerals were found to be unprofitable to extract from their ore, but the valley kept its hopeful name: Mineral King.

Mineral King had been part of Sequoia National Forest since 1926, and in the late 1940s the United States Forest Service began to give consideration to Mineral King as a potential site for recreational development. Prodded by a rapidly increasing demand for ski facilities, the Forest Service published a prospectus in 1965, inviting bids from private developers for the construction and operation of a ski resort that would also serve as a summer recreation area. The proposal of Walt Disney Enterprises, Inc. was chosen from those of six bidders, and Disney received a three-year permit to conduct surveys and explorations in the valley in connection with its preparation of a complete master plan for the resort.

The final Disney plan, approved by the Forest Service in January 1969 (and supported by Governor Ronald Reagan, a friend of Walt Disney), outlined a $35 million complex of motels, restaurants, swimming pools, parking lots, and other structures designed to accommodate 14,000 visitors daily. The complex was to be constructed on 80 acres of the valley floor under a 30-year use permit from the Forest Service. Other facilities, including ski lifts, ski trails, a cog-assisted railway, and utility installations, were to be constructed on the mountain slopes and in other parts of the valley under a revocable special-use permit. To provide access to the resort, the state of California proposed to construct a highway 20 miles in length. A section of that road would have traversed Sequoia National Park, as would have a proposed high-voltage power line needed to provide electricity for the resort.

In June 1969 the Sierra Club filed a Federal suit in the Northern District of California court to attempt to stop the project. The court issued a temporary injunction the following month which blocked implementation of the Forest Service/ Disney development plan for the basin for three full years before the U.S. Supreme Court finally addressed the Sierra Club's lawsuit. (Disney had anticipated opening the resort in 1970 or 1971.) In an April 1972 decision, the Court rejected the suit on the grounds that the Sierra Club had not established that it was suffering direct harm as a result of the Forest Service's actions.

In June the Sierra Club filed an amended suit; soon public opposition to Mineral King development began to increase in an era of unparalleled environmental awareness and activism. After years of legal battles between pro-development and preservationist groups, the Mineral King Valley was annexed into Sequoia National Park in 1978 by an act of Congress. That legislation effectively stopped the plan to ever develop the area into a ski resort.

Proposed Mineral King Resort

From Desert Magazine, July 1966

Image from Desert magazine, July 1966, "Mineral Kings Hidden 'Paylode'"

Mineral King Development records

The Mineral King Development records consists of environmental reports, correspondence, scrapbooks, and other ephemera pertaining to  the controversial 1960s development of a 16,000 acre tract of the Sequoia National Forest in Tulare County, California.  The materials were created and collected by conservation activists Jean and Richard Koch.