Fewer things are less fun than politics. I'd sooner eat a bowl of 2-month-old oatmeal sprinkled with goathead thorns than voluntarily delve into the political arena. It's time to lay down the spoon, though, because what's happening with the Johnson Valley OHV area is too critical to ignore.
For those who don't know or may have forgotten, the Johnson Valley OHV area in Southern California shares a border with the 29 Palms Marine Corps base. The Marines (maybe the Pentagon brass?) have decided that the acreage they already use and train on aren't enough. They want a piece of the OHV area to be re-designated for USMC use.
A Standoff of Odd Proportions
As off-roaders, it's nothing short of strange to be squaring off with the Marines. Many, many off-roaders are military vets themselves, and many active military personnel are also off-roaders. When it comes to the average off-roader and the average Marine, we feel a kinship more than anything else.
There's more. The Marines put their lives on the line to protect the freedoms we enjoy, including the freedom to explore this great country we live in. We're grateful for that.
With all this in mind, we have to be clear: we have no issues with the guys whose boots are on the ground. We have issues with military leaders who seek to take away land that's vital to the off-road community.
Why Johnson Valley Matters
Johnson Valley's varied terrain draws a large cross-section of the off-road community. This means rock-crawlers, desert racers (both buggies and trucks), dirt bike and quad riders, UTV users, and Jeepers.
At 188,000 acres, the Johnson Valley OHV area is the largest open-travel OHV area in the United States. Although it's most visible use is for OHV play and competition, we're not the only ones out there. Johnson Valley is used by many other groups who need open land. The film industry is a major user in Johnson Valley, as are equestrians, rockhounds, flying clubs, land yacht sailors, radio-control enthusiasts, and scout troops.
Competitions are held in Johnson Valley many times during the year. King of the Hammers is far and away the biggest, giving rise to an RV city at Means Dry Lake with a population that numbers in the thousands. Both MDR and M.O.R.E. host desert races in Johnson Valley. The 2010 M.O.R.E. calendar shows seven races, two of which are in Johnson Valley. MDR Racing has a similar scenario, with seven races for 2010, three of those in Johnson Valley. The dirt bike and quad competition calendar is full of Johnson Valley events. We took a look at the 2010 AMA District 37 off-road racing schedule. Of the 35 events listed, 14 were in Johnson Valley. That's a combined 19 organized events every year.
Of course, there's a lot more to off-roading than competition. When the checkered flags aren't flying in Johnson Valley, off-roaders of all types come here to play. For many, it's a place for family time and family memories.
Johnson Valley matters to OFF-ROAD Magazine, too. Over the years, we've generated a ton of magazine content using Johnson Valley as a backdrop. Johnson Valley is reasonably close to our office, which saves us time and money.
The Decision Process
We're in the middle of the decision process right now. When the Marines first announced they were considering a request for additional land in late 2008, a series of scoping meetings were held where the Marines provided information about their needs and intentions. These scoping meetings also provided an opportunity for the general public (including the off-road community) to make comments about the potential closure of the Johnson Valley OHV area.
After the scoping meetings, the Marines spent some time considering their options.
At press time (July 2010) we're in a holding pattern waiting for the next steps.
Here's what's coming up:
The Marines will release a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in September 2010. After the EIS is released, there will be a 90-day public comment period. Yes, this story is in our November 2010 issue, but we're guessing you're reading it well before then. That means you've still got a chance to make a comment.
After the 90-day public comment period is over, the Marines will take the comments into consideration and release another draft of the EIS. This draft of the EIS is scheduled to be released in July 2011.
After the EIS is released in July 2011, we'll be holding our collective breath until October of that same year. That's because the Marines will make their decision public in October 2011. After that, if the Marines have decided to ask for a chunk of public land, their request will go to the the U.S. Congress for approval. Congress will then vote and we'll all have to live with the outcome.
Alternatives for the Marines
At press time, there are six alternatives that the Marines are considering. One alternative is the "no action" alternative, meaning things will be left as they are. Another alternative is for the Marines to use 40,000 acres in Johnson Valley part time for training, allowing off-roaders into that same area when it's not being used for training.
There are also areas to the north and to the east of the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base that are options for the Marines. There's historic precedent here, as General Patton used the area to the east for training during World War II.
The Ripple Effect
If Johnson Valley is closed, the results won't be small or benign. Instead, it will be the same as what happens when you toss a rock into a glassy, calm lake. The ripples will radiate in all directions. "Since Johnson Valley is the largest OHV area in the United States, closing it will actually ripple throughout the entire western United States," said Wayne Nosala of the Partnership for Johnson Valley. We've already talked about how Johnson Valley's potential closure will affect off-road enthusiasts. Let's examine the ripple effect into the communities near Johnson Valley.
Ripple Effect Into Big Bear
If you've been there, you know that you won't find the comforts of home in Johnson Valley unless you truck them in with you. On the other hand, driving up into Big Bear means lodging, dining, and almost any other needed service. "It's hard to document all of the effects that closing Johnson Valley would have," said Ray Currie of Currie Enterprises. "Some people go to Johnson Valley to play, but stay in Big Bear. On the way home, they might drive down the hill and through Lucerne Valley to get home. On the way out, they'll probably stop for gas and get a bite to eat. That's money spent as a direct result of Johnson Valley."
Ripple Effect Into Lucerne Valley, Apple Valley
Most Johnson Valley visitors go by way of Bear Valley Road, AKA California State Highway 18. Along here, you'll find gas stations, tire shops, general auto repair, fast food, and groceries. These businesses exist because the traffic draws customers. Off-roaders are a big part of that traffic and a major part of these businesses' customer base. If the flow of Johnson Valley visitors along Highway 18 dries up, it will have dire economic consequences for those businesses. The city of Apple Valley has formally registered itself as a stakeholder in the Johnson Valley debate.
Don Alexander of Backcountry4x4.com also weighed in regarding Big Bear: "If Johnson Valley is closed, especially the rock-crawling areas like the Hammers, where will everyone with buggies go? Big Bear is a likely area, and that would be disastrous, both from a trail-damage perspective, especially since many would go 'off trail,' and from a political perspective, as this outcome would force the Forest Service to close trails as it cannot possibly enforce regulations...this has monumental and disastrous implications to our sport and our industry."
Ripple Effect into Barstow, Increased Danger
Closing an off-road area doesn't diminish off-roaders' enthusiasm any more than closing one golf course will make golfers take up knitting. Closing one off-road area means that other off-road areas will become more crowded. The Stoddard Valley OHV area near Barstow will become more crowded and dangerous if Johnson Valley is closed. Most of us have heard a story or two about a nasty off-road accident at Barstow. If Johnson Valley is closed we're likely to hear (and possibly experience) more horror stories.
What Can We Do?
It's simple: speak up! You can comment via e-mail or snail mail. If you don't live in Southern California, don't worry about it. Off-roaders from all corners of the country come to Johnson Valley.
You should comment even if you haven't yet been to Johnson Valley. After all, if Johnson Valley is closed you'll have lost the opportunity to experience some of the best terrain and trails around.
Be sure to make your comments before the end of the comment period. Don't wait!
Besides making comments to the Marines, you can also contact your local congressional representative and your state's U.S. senators. Let them know what Johnson Valley means to you personally, how often you visit, what you do when you visit, how many people go with you, how much money you spend (and where you spend it) on your visit.Remember, the Marines' final request must be approved by Congress before becoming law.
Partnership for Johnson Valley
We recommend contacting the Partnership for Johnson Valley to find out what's going on and how to make public comments. Check out its website at PFJV.org to find out more.