Over the past two weeks, the Inyo County Planning Department has hosted two meetings, one in Independence and the other in Bishop, on the environmental review process for the proposed Adventure Trails project. Under the October 2011 California Legislature approved Assembly Bill 628, the project will allow green-sticker off-highway vehicles to use some city and county combined-use roads to access local communities, businesses and OHV recreation areas.
While an existing law on the books already allowed combined-use roads for up to 3 miles, Assembly Bill 628 granted a pilot extension to Inyo County to increase it to 10 miles to meet the conditions found in the county. There has been almost universal approval of the idea so far and many local agencies are prepared to grant use of their roads and property in support of the project with the exception of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
The Adventure Trails project was started by Dick Noles of Bishop. As the president of Advocates for Access to Public Lands, he and others formed the Adventure Trails Group and have been working with federal, state, city, and county officials to implement the program. The Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, Bishop Police Department, Caltrans, and California Highway Patrol have all reviewed and approved the plan.
The program will allow licensed drivers of OHVs to travel on the pavement to local stores or services and to OHV trails.
The Inyo County Planning Department prepared a staff report that noted the Adventure Trails project has the potential to impact “aesthetic resources, air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards, hazardous materials, hydrology and water quality, land use and planning, noise, public services, recreation, transportation and traffic, and could have cumulatively considerable environmental impacts.”
To address the concerns, the county has hired a consultant to prepare an Environmental Impact Report.
At the public meeting in Independence, Birch Creek resident Steve McLaughlin voiced concerns about noise and dust on Birch Creek Road and suggested a 15 mile per hour speed limit be imposed. Furthermore, he was wondering that, if the Tinnemaha Campground overflowed as a result of the program being successful, would there be a problem with unregulated camping outside of the campground that might pose a fire hazard. He also was concerned cultural and historic resources and sites might be affected.
In addition to McLaughlin’s concerns about wildlife and the habitat in the Birch Creek Area, he also expressed concern for the safety of local residents and their pets walking along the road. He took pains to express that, while he had concerns, he was not against the program.
Jon Klusmire, speaking as both the director of the Eastern California and as a private citizen, felt there was a need to have clearly defined routes and signage to keep OHV users on approved trails.
Noles and others with the group promoting Adventure Trails explained that the routes went through an extensive review in the Travel Management Plan. They added that the project has funding opportunities for education and signage, and the group has already planned for signage and information kiosks to be strategically placed just for that purpose.
At Wednesday night’s meeting held in Bishop at the Bishop City Council Chamber, a group of two dozen residents expressed their support and concerns, most of which centered on street safety in residential neighbors where the OHVs would be allowed to travel under the plan and what it might mean to property values along the routes. Darla Heil and Andrew Schurr were concerned about the narrowness of some of the proposed streets such as Hanby and Short Street noting that children often play outside homes and apartments. Other questions were asked about homeowners’ liability along the routes and how would the issue of noise be dealt with if it should prove to be a problem for some residents. Local resident Dale Comontofski was among several expressing strong support for the proposal.
While concerns were expressed by several attending the meeting, many proposed possible solutions. Most in the audience were attentive and supportive. No one appeared clearly against the idea. It seemed that most felt the program might have positive economic benefits to the county at a time when some local events that have attracted visitors to the area have shown decreasing numbers.
It was suggested that those interested in finding out more about how another Adventure Trail program succeeded? one on a much larger scale that that proposed for Inyo County? should look into a similar and widely implemented OHV trail plans in Utah that resulted in significant economic benefits to the communities which participated.
For more information on the Adventure Trails Project, contact the Inyo County Planning Department at 760.878.0263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.