Press "Enter" to skip to content

Heard around the West

Brief by Betsy Marston

Mountain Life – August 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Lawn Care

As lawns in the West grow and suck down immense amounts of water, Andrew McKean of Helena, Mont., passes on two apropos comments, the first from University of Utah political scientist Daniel McCool: “Utah doesn’t have a water problem; Utah has a Kentucky bluegrass problem.” The second comes from the side of a bus spotted in Orem, Utah: “Love thy neighbor. But have the better lawn.”

Which points up how consumed we are by green and tidy grass; so much so, says Virginia Scott Jenkins, in her book, The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession, that wherever we settle — and that includes the desert Southwest with its nine or so inches of rain a year — we insist on planting lawns, then watering, fertilizing, aerating and mowing and re-mowing them.

Lawns have become a symbol of our control of and superiority over the environment, says Jenkins. But there’s a high price to pay. There’s lawn anxiety for us and damage to waterways and wildlife from pesticides and endless monocultures of grass. Even though there are 54 million lawns in this country, Jenkins says there is a move toward a more natural backyard fueled by the xeriscaper who prefers native plants — and perhaps also nourished by the lazy and those of us who are fed-up with the whole lawn thing.

Then there are those noisy gas-powered lawn mowers. A Swedish study cited by Environmental Media Services says pollution spewed from one hour of gasoline-mowing is about the same as from a 100-mile ride in a car. What’s more, in a year, Americans use about 800 million gallons of gas just to cut lawns.

While it’s tough to wean people from their noisome mowers, Seattle is giving it a go. A pilot program offered 20 residents battery-powered electric mowers if they’d stop using their old gas-fired machines. One participant said he’d made the “supreme sacrifice” by trading in his riding mower for an electric one, and now, he told a neighbor, he “won’t go back.”

The program is sponsored by King County and Seattle Public Utilities; for more information call toll-free 888-860-LAWN.


If a state could be boiling mad, then that state is Idaho. Two men from Illinois had the gall to pack 3.4 million pounds of potatoes grown in Wisconsin and label them “Grown in Idaho.”

Said U.S. Attorney Mac Haws, “When consumer fraud involves a product as closely associated with Idaho as the potato, the harm goes beyond our pocketbooks. It is an affront to the state.”

But Idaho got its revenge, reports Associated Press. The two thieves must pay $100,000 to Idaho’s Potato Commission, which will use the money to run television commercials in Chicago that “restore the reputation of genuine Idaho potatoes.”

Democracy Isn’t Elementary

The choice of a name for a new elementary school in Marana, Ariz., recently became a hot potato after kids voted for “Rattlesnake Ridge.” The school board then voted to ignore both the children and democracy. “Is a rattlesnake a positive image that we want for a mascot?” asked the board president, Bonnie Demorotski. “You have to remember these are kids that are voting.”

Well, rejoined another board member, “Why go through the drill if you are going to just discard the plurality of the vote?”

Nonetheless, the board decided to name the school “Twin Peaks” and not “Rattlesnake Ridge.”

But there’s a problem with the board’s fell swoop, reports The Northwest Explorer. While there is a Rattle Snake Pass close by — an area cited by the children, there are also a couple of places named Twin Peaks. But unfortunately, one of them lost its peak after a quarry opened there in 1949. If limestone mining continues at the current rate, the entire mountain is expected to vanish in 60-to-75 years. So how about One Peak Elementary School?

It Doesn’t Take a Miracle to Move a Mountain

Mountains really do move in the West. They move up when geological forces come into play; and down when a developer decides they’re in the way of something that can make money.

In Colorado, the state’s largest gambling casino is going up where a mountain top used to be. More than 120 dynamite blasts eliminated the mountain in the town of Black Hawk, reports The Denver Post, to make room for a garage and the 123-acre Black Hawk Casino, which includes restaurants and shops.

“That’s the thing about building in the mountains,” said construction manager Jack Nevin. “Sometimes you have to move them.”