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  • Hesperia

    No Happy Trail in Desert Tale

    Charges fly between off-roaders and activists
    over booby traps and cut fences. A federal ruling
    on use of the path is expected next month.

    By Louis Sahagun
    Times Staff Writer

    March 25, 2004

    HESPERIA, Calif. - A range war has broken out
    between environmentalists and off-road
    motorcyclists over an illegal 3-mile dirt trail
    that cuts through prehistoric burial grounds and
    runs past a cave believed to have been used by
    Native Americans.

    The motorcyclists say they are finding
    booby-traps on the foot-wide trail - piano wire
    stretched taut a few inches above the ground,
    roofing nails, and pipes camouflaged with brush -
    designed to topple motorcyclists who regard the
    Cottonwood Springs area of Juniper Flats as a
    scenic riding route.

    Environmentalists, led by members of a local
    residents group, Friends of Juniper Flats, have
    denied any responsibility for the alleged acts of
    sabotage. But they, and some former federal land
    managers, say motorcyclists have cut property
    fences, "burning trails" on private property, and
    trashed what they consider the culturally rich
    site designated as an "area of critical
    environmental concern" by the federal Bureau of
    Land Management.

    The activists also accuse the BLM's Barstow field
    office of failing to enforce its own rules and
    regulations as more off-roaders look to the 3
    million acres of public land overseen by the
    office as a place to ride. The area, the
    environmentalists say, is too big to manage, let
    alone police, with only 11 BLM rangers.

    The dispute over Juniper Flats, about 10 miles
    east of here, is one of many that the federal
    agency is wrestling with in the California
    desert. The popularity of off-road motorcycling,
    particularly in such rapidly growing communities
    as Hesperia, has increased along with calls for
    stricter controls over the motorcyclists' access
    to public lands.

    Like every other popular destination on open
    land, Juniper Flats has a range of reputations
    that those rangers struggle to maintain: as a
    premier hiking area, a bird watcher's paradise, a
    haven for wildlife, an ancestral home of Serrano
    Indians, an off-road motorcycle course.

    Adding to the tensions, BLM officials concede
    that until recently even they were not sure
    whether motorcyclists should be allowed on the
    trail. Until October, officials said, they were
    assuring the motorcyclists that they were
    permitted there.

    "There was a lag time in determining what was
    legal and what wasn't," acknowledged Roxie Trost,
    acting Barstow field office manager. "We have
    determined in the past six weeks that it is not
    open for off-road use.

    "But we still have one group telling us there is
    no resource damage occurring, and another telling
    us there's been extensive resource damage. The
    BLM is doing necessary surveys out there to come
    to a conclusion."

    The dispute may be resolved next month, when the
    agency is expected to issue its West Mojave Plan,
    12 years in the making. The plan will designate
    certain networks of routes appropriate for
    off-road vehicles and take others out of
    commission.

    In the meantime, "it's a dangerous war out
    there," said Ed Waldheim, president of the
    5,000-member California Off-Road Vehicle Assn.

    "Some folks in the off-road vehicle field say
    that trail has been there forever and that they
    ought to be able to use it," he said. "Enviros on
    the far left say we shouldn't exist. Both sides
    need to hold back their testosterone levels and
    wait for the West Mojave Plan to come out."

    On Monday, all four tires of a BLM truck were
    damaged by roofing nails apparently strewn in the
    vicinity of the disputed trail known as J1299,
    according to BLM recreation branch chief Harold
    Johnson. The vehicle belonged to Barstow-area
    rangers dispatched to repair a recently cut
    barbed-wire fence.

    "We found a couple of nail strips out there about
    six months ago, and somebody else found piano
    wire stretched across the trail," Johnson said.
    "Somebody's going to get injured, or possibly
    killed."

    The hilly, rocky terrain is dominated by the
    large rock shelter known locally as a shaman's
    cave. Archeologists believe that it had been used
    by Serrano Indians off and on over 3,000 years as
    a seasonal village in a transition zone between
    forest and desert, and as a sacred site for
    conducting fertility rites and burial ceremonies.

    On a recent weekday, fresh motorcycle tracks were
    etched into the sand a few feet from the rock
    shelter. The cave is on a bluff overlooking pools
    of spring water surrounded by fire-charred
    creosote bushes and a network of dirt roads and
    trails.

    "Off-road motorcycling through that area is
    having an adverse impact on archeological sites
    that are tremendously important," said BLM
    archeologist Sally Cunkelman. "There are only a
    few other places in the entire 3 million acres
    covered by the Barstow BLM office that require
    the same intensive management it does."

    Dean Greenwalt, a Friends of Juniper Flats member
    and local property owner, shook his head in
    dismay over a nearby fence that had been cut by
    someone who also left fresh tire tracks in the
    soil. "Now is the time to stop these impacts,"
    Greenwalt said. "Or else they'll get so bad they
    can't be reversed."

    Concern over the potential for permanent loss of
    some resources - especially archeological remains
    and wildlife habitat - has spurred former BLM
    Barstow field manager Alden Sievers to publicly
    accuse the agency of failing to protect the area
    from an "inappropriate use that flies in the face
    of all the work we did in developing a cultural
    resource management plan for the area in 1988."

    That kind of talk does not sit well with Mike
    Castro, a neighbor of Greenwalt's and an off-road
    motorcyclist who vowed to continue riding the
    trail he described as "one of the best."

    Sitting on a cot in his spare wood-frame home
    about a mile from Cottonwood Springs, the lanky,
    long-haired man who charges people $4 a person to
    cross his land, said environmentalists "don't
    understand that there are others with a different
    opinion who are taxpayers and happen to be
    motorcycle riders."

    He also suggested that the recent spate of fence
    cutting could be the result of motorcyclists
    "responding to overzealous attempts to sabotage
    or close them off."

    Champion off-road motorcyclist Ty "Zipty" Davis,
    who has been riding in the area for 26 years,
    agreed.

    "The environmentalists are [angering]
    motorcyclists, so now some people are cutting
    fences," he said. "I can see this whole thing
    evolving into a ground war, which is where it
    maybe needs to go.

    "The environmentalists have all kinds of money,
    dwell on closing the land and want to fight in
    the courtsŠ. If it was the old days, they
    wouldn't be so aggressive. In those days, people
    fought for their stuff. They just duked it out."

    Davis also said the "trails I've burned with my
    motorcycle have actually improved conditions for
    wildlife. Animals use those trails now. It's the
    coolest thing."

    Nonetheless, BLM chief Johnson said
    "motorcyclists ought to stay off" J1299, given
    that it was never officially designated for
    off-road use.

    "When the West Mojave Plan comes out, the exact
    status of that trail will be disclosed," Johnson
    said. "If we determine that it should be closed,
    we will get rid of it, and have appropriate law
    enforcement on hand to make sure off-roaders stay
    out."

    Waldheim has a problem with that scenario.

    "I'm sick of people shutting me out - of losing
    off-road vehicle opportunities," he said. "We
    have to decide whether to fight to keep the trail
    open, or sue the BLM. Either way, it ain't over
    till it's over."
    Kirk
    1997 Jeep Wrangler

  • #2
    Wow, it's getting crazy out there. Thanks for sharing Kirk.
    :gun:'99 TJ Sport:gun:

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