A proposal to protect the Alabama Hills with a National Scenic Area (NSA) designation is one letter closer to law after the Inyo County Board of Supervisors approved correspondence to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office expressing support for the designation at Tuesday’s Board meeting in Independence.
The Alabama Hills Stewardship Group (AHSG), a local nonprofit corporation, has spearheaded the effort to acquire an NSA for the past 7 years. According to an AHSG statement, “The goal is to make the Alabama Hills as accessible and activity inclusive as possible, while still preserving the semi-primitive and scenic landscape.” The designation would also allow for improvements to existing infrastructure, including roads, campgrounds and informational kiosks; funding for education efforts for both the general public and local schools; and further protection for sensitive Native American cultural sites and artifacts.
AHSG began its efforts to obtain an NSA for the Alabama Hills with input from some 30 stakeholders, ranging from Friends of the Inyo to local cattle ranchers, as well as 40 user groups, from rock climbers to ATV riders. The Group ultimately selected a designation that would allow these many stakeholders and user groups to continue their traditional uses of the Alabama Hills.
In 2011, AHSG presented a proposal for an NSA under the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Landscape Conservation System to the County Board of Supervisors. Currently, the BLM manages the Alabama Hills as BLM multi-use recreational lands.
The only activity limited under an NSA designation is commercial mining, explained AHSG Franchise Owner Kevin Mezzu. The designation would allow recreational prospecting claims to continue, he said.
Explaining the need for such a designation, Mezzu argued that “anyone who drives or walks through the Alabama Hills and looks at the incredible scenery and geology comes away with a feeling that this needs to be heightened to some nationally protected designation.”
AHSG President Chris Langley described the appeal of the Alabama Hills as almost elemental. “I think there’s a natural beauty to it,” he said; “it’s very interesting and unique, and I think the lighting is spectacular. I also think there’s something healing and peaceful about spending time up there. It’s a wonderful landscape that you can’t find anywhere else.”
As the Inyo County Film Commissioner, Langley also noted the rich history of filmmaking in the Alabama Hills, one land use that might eventually be threatened should the Alabama Hills remain without a designation like the NSA. The history of film in the Alabama Hills began in 1920 with The Roundup, a Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle picture, Langley said, and continues to this day with modern blockbusters like Iron Man, Django Unchained and Man of Steel. All told, Langley said, more than 400 films have been shot in the Alabama Hills.
The Inyo County Board of Supervisors supported the efforts of the AHSG to secure the NSA designation, and unanimously approved their draft letter of approval. The County will send that letter to Senator Feinstein’s office, where she and her staff will have an opportunity to make a decision to revisit, finalize and introduce legislation drafted in partnership between AHSG and Feinstein’s staff to the Senate Committee, explained Mezzu. Feinstein’s office has previously expressed its interest and support for this legislation, he said. “My hope is that a similar bill will be introduced in the house by Paul Cook,” he added, noting that Congressman Paul Cook has also expressed an interest in the designation.
Said Chris Langley, “The Alabama Hills Stewardship Group is appreciative of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors’ new level of unanimous support for the future ‘Alabama Hills National Scenic Area’. We are hopeful this support will serve as a catalyst with Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Paul Cook, for designation legislation to be introduced and passed this year.”