Inyo Board prepares to submit data to the State from pilot program’s three trails.
In its last regular meeting before the end of the year, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on the Eastern Sierra Adventure Trails Pilot Project Report. The pilot project allows approved combined-use roads within the County until January 2017. The Adventure Trails Pilot Project hoped to emulate the success of other similar programs in other states and communities which have reportedly proven successful in improving the local economies establishing similar routes accommodate ATV access to local businesses.
Assembly Bill 628 allowed the County to designate combined-use highway segments up to 10 miles long on unincorporated County roads to link existing off-highway-vehicle (OHV) trails and trailheads on federal Bureau of Land Management or United States Forest Service lands. Its stated purpose is to link OHV recreational-use areas with necessary service and lodging facilities, in order to provide a unified system of OHV trails in the Owens Valley.
While the project has enjoyed some support from the public and with local business owners who hope to see a positive economic impact on the County, the Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility expressed environmental concerns and a lawsuit pushed implementation back, limiting the time the County had to assess the program for its report to the state. The project originally had over 70 proposed routes, which were then reduced to 36 potential routes, before being further downsized to just seven.
Problems with approvals from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and the Inyo National Forest (INF) for off-road trailheads have further hampered the pilot project and only three routes are currently in use.
County Public Works Transportation Planner Courtney Smith told Supervisors on Dec. 8 that the traffic counts were “fairly light” considering that there were only three routes from which to study. No complaints were registered on the three official routes.
The Supervisors appeared frustrated by the delays coming from the INF and LADWP. The INF insists the projects needs to be analyzed and comply with the National Environmental Protection Act. The LADWP wants the County to assume liability for all OHV use on its lands, although the County is already on record in writing assuming any liabilities that stem from the program.
Board Chairman Matt Kingsley expressed his desire for the County to ask the state to extend the pilot program so there would be more time to gather data.
At the sparsely attended public meeting on Dec. 15, Lone Pine Resident Earl Wilson expressed concern that there should be signage at the Horseshoe Meadows route that tells riders that there is “No combined use beyond this point.” He also complained about a side-by-side ATV traveling on Movie Road at night with its off-road light bar on and said that it had blinded him, nearly causing an accident. Supervisor Kingsley noted that the road was not a part of the adventure trails pilot project. Supervisor Griffiths suggested that perhaps there should be a phone number posted for people to call in complaints and violations, and suggested that “often OHVs are blamed for the actions of those riding dirt bikes, which are perfectly legal with or without Adventure Trails.”
Bishop resident Philip Anaya expressed concern that the County should not be held liable for environmental damage but rather the riders and even manufacturers. In response, Supervisor Griffiths quoted #25 of the implementation program which states that “riders must have insurance.”
Adventure Trails supporters Doug Brown, Glen Park, Steve Toomey and Randy Gillespie said the Supervisors should forward the report as is. Brown argued that there are businesses being harmed by the lack of action on approving additional trails. Gillespie told the Board that the only negative that he sees in the report is that “we need more routes” and rather than more information, have the state use the 20 years of data from the successful Adventure Trails program in Utah.
Third District Supervisor Rick Pucci said “this program is an attempt to have ‘controlled use’ of ATVs” rather than continue with the absence of any rules and regulations. He described the lack of approval from LADWP as “silliness. “We should continue putting pressure on DWP, he said. “The County has accepted liability. We need to get these roadblocks lifted.