The world seems a bigger place each day, yet each day it also grows smaller. Those of us who find joy, serenity, or adrenalin highs out in the dirt expand our exploration to see greater expanses of the off-road world. However, as it seems, we are also rapidly losing access to some of our favorite playgrounds. Many of us who live near large metro areas and are all too familiar with urban sprawl that creeps its way out to what used to be our remote dirt spots. When this happens, conflicts can arise between the encroaching civilization and the off-road users of the area.
Such has been the case with the Table Mesa area just north of the Phoenix (Arizona) metro region that has long been a popular recreation destination for local inhabitants. It's a place that has garnered widespread attention as a location popular for wheelers looking to tackle sandy washes, rocky trails, and challenging boulder crawls. The area consists of about 11,500 acres of public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and has been frequented for decades. It is a popular site for use by off-roaders of all kinds, hikers, bikers, target shooters, campers, recreational miners, rock hounds, and equestrian enthusiasts. With this varied set of users, concerns merge between them, BLM, and private property owners that have land rights in parts of this region. Along with these many interests comes the potential for conflict between the various parties as to how each thinks the byways should be used.
As might be expected, with increased use of the area comes more potential for environmental impacts, possible trash, and spilled vehicle fluids that can be a concern for plant life and flowing water sources. Additionally, Arizona Fish and Game have from time to time identified riparian areas that may support certain plant or desert animal life and have restricted access near these areas.
What has, for many years, seemed to be a wild and open area, is starting to gravitate to a managed master plan for the region where multi-use needs are considered and some restrictions will be placed on each of the groups to continue to accommodate the needs of them all. BLM has recently released a planning document for Table Mesa after several intensive years of study of the area. Public collaboration and input over a two year period was also taken under consideration as this plan was formed. By the time you read this writing, a 30 day appeal period should have passed and the plan most likely adopted for implementation.
The plan includes, from an off-roading standpoint, what is described as an approved trail list that will be marked with signage. Some existing trails will be closed to access and a few new trails will be established. This will all fall under the establishment of a route system, defining where certain types of users can participate in their activities. Staging areas will be defined and constricted trailhead parking established to minimize the freedom of allowing people to park most anywhere they want. Animals that are deemed to need protection, such as the Desert Tortoise, are being carefully considered and their preservation monitored.
As this plan was formulated during the study period, local users were asked for their inputs and off-roaders were asked to identify trails being used so they could be added to the total route inventory for consideration in the plan. Six formal meetings were held with the public for solicited input.
One output from the planning is that the area will be organized with a "zoned approach" to keep certain groups of users restricted to specified areas for safety and compatibility reasons.
Specific to rock crawling, "technical vehicle sites" will be defined where 4WDs will be allowed. Certain use restrictions may be put in place, as needed, and access may require a permit or some other access restriction may be imposed. As the plan currently shows, some of the technical sites will be shut down, but some new replacement sites have been proposed.
As an aside, It should be noted that in January of 2009, Arizona also enacted a new OHV sticker law that requires all unlicensed vehicles used off the highway be registered and pay a fee. Most of the monies are supposed go into an OHV Recreation Fund to provide funding for new trails, law enforcement, education, land restoration, etc.
Table Mesa lies just outside an area where other pressures on off-road access are building to the south in Maricopa County, where Phoenix resides. Federal air quality mandates have prompted dust ordinances that include restrictions on the use of vehicles on unpaved areas on certain days. This is yet another constriction of our ability to get out and play on some days and in some places in that county.
Over the years, nearby urban growth has moved closer to Table Mesa and irresponsible users have brought further attention to the area. As such, the BLM is stepping in with a plan to further regulate the area, which will include closing down some of the former play areas. Table Mesa is just one representative place and each of you may have some local 'wheeling spot that is threatened with closure or constriction. We can all learn to be a little more conscientious about caring for the land we have access to and trying our best to preserve our right to responsibly recreate on our public lands. It's best to be vigilant in your area and watch for pending problems or legislation that may reduce your ability to get out and play.