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EDITORIAL: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke seeks to rebuild public trust in the rural West

The saga of Ash Springs has caught the attention of higher-ups in Washington — and that’s good news for Lincoln County residents wondering when the federal government will reopen the popular swimming hole.

Ash Springs is north of Alamo about 100 miles upstate from Las Vegas. For decades, residents of the area and tourists made ample use of the spring-fed pools. But in 2013, the Bureau of Land Management chained the gates, citing safety issues because of “bank erosion and undercutting.”

Cynics posited that the move was just a backdoor effort to restrict usage of more public land.

It’s nearing five years now and Ash Springs remains closed. On Thursday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told the Review-Journal that the incident highlights why many rural Westerners don’t trust the agencies charged with managing federal lands.

“This is exactly why the federal government needs to clean up our act,” he said. “I’m not in the business of locking the public out.” Mr. Zinke insisted that Ash Springs will again be open for use and chided the BLM for taking so long to resolve the issue.

This refreshing acknowledgement reflects Mr. Zinke’s mission of mending fences with rural residents throughout the West, many of whom have long regarded federal land managers as arrogant and dismissive of their concerns.

“We need to be better stewards,” Mr. Zinke said. “We need to work with local communities and be better neighbors,” adding that anger toward the feds is often “the result of gross mismanagement and overreach” by the federal government. “Local voices hadn’t been heard and people rightfully get upset when they get locked out,” he said.

Indeed. Just ask the folks in Alamo about Ash Springs. Mr. Zinke’s approach is welcome and long-overdue.

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