Forest Service Deputy District Ranger, Mike Schlafmann (squatting) reviews plans for OHV/OSV staging areas with Tuesday’s field trip attendees.
Coordinating Ormat, OSV and OHV
The Forest Service sees an opportunity with the development of Ormat’s geothermal well sites and with the help of grant funding is jumping on it. The agency plans to develop a total of three OHV/OSV staging areas: one in the Shady Rest Park area and two on the Scenic Loop. Ormat plays a role in the development of the Shady Rest Park staging area because of its need to plow Sawmill Cutoff Road to reach its geothermal wells, year-round.
“We never used to plow Sawmill Cutoff Road,” explained Jon Regelbrugge, District Ranger for the Mammoth and Mono Lake Ranger Districts, which is why snowmobile staging, along with non-motorized staging, was always at the parking area at the corner of Hwy 203 and Sawmill Cutoff Road.
“Ormat was accessing its wells down near 203 and 395, but it proved to be easier for them to plow Sawmill Cutoff Road,” Regelbrugge continued. “Motorized users were using this road [Sawmill Cutoff] as their access point [to trails further in the forest] previously because around the campground is non-motorized use only, but once the road is plowed, the motorized users can’t use it.”
Last year, Sawmill Cutoff Road was plowed out to Shady Rest Park, and the parking area there became the staging area for Over-Snow Vehicles (OSV), i.e. snowmobiles. The spot, however, proved to be a difficult one for big rigs towing snowmobiles to turn around, plus motorized and non-motorized users were still bumping into one another as they had in the past.
As Ormat, the geothermal company looking to develop a new geothermal power plant, continues developing well sites it will need to plow Sawmill Cutoff Road farther in order to access the sites all year long.
“We got all of this going because we saw an opportunity with Ormat,” explained Deputy District Ranger Mike Schlafmann at a field trip of the staging sites held on Tuesday.
There are three potential sites in the Shady Rest Park area, all less than one mile apart, but all are out past the paved portion of Sawmill Cutoff Road.
“We’re going to ask Ormat to pave the road out here,” Schalfmann said. “They’ll need to pave it anyway in order to be able to plow to the wells.”
That paved road will provide access for vehicles to reach whichever staging site is chosen. The first site is closest to the currently paved section of the road and seemed to be the most favorable to those who attended the field trip. Its biggest downfall is that the land will overlap directly with one of the well sites, which means the staging area would constantly be filled with the hum of the well.
The second site sits about 100 yards farther down Sawmill Cutoff Road and would overlap with some of Ormat’s pipeline, but away from the actual well sites and wouldn’t have the noise.
The third site was even farther out (something the group wasn’t fond of) and would overlap with another well.
Wherever it ends up being located, the Shady Rest staging area would be paved, and would have approximately 23 parking spots. Field trip participants continually emphasized the “bigger the better,” pushing the Forest Service to try to make the staging area as large as it possibly can to accommodate the large vehicles such as motorhomes that snowmobilers tend to use to tow their OSVs.
Two staging areas with locations already determined will also be built along the Scenic Loop. For the winter of 2011/12, however, things will remain business as usual and Shady Rest Park will again be used for OSV staging, according to District Recreation Officer Jon Kazmierski.
Once the new staging areas are completed, non-motorized users such as Nordic skiers will be directed to the Visitor Center for staging because Shady Rest Park won’t be plowed the way it is currently.
“That’s where they should be going now,” Kazmierski pointed out.
The staging area process is still in early stages (several information-gathering meetings were held at the beginning of the year) so there is still plenty of time to comment. Contact Kazmierski for more information or to provide input at 760.924.5503 or by email at email@example.com.