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The Fight to End Land Closure to Off-Road Activity has Never Been More Important - Trailhead

Posted in Features on October 26, 2015
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Wide-open off-highway vehicle use all began to change in the ’80s as one after another of these favorite off-road–recreation areas were closed to visitors that had enjoyed them since childhood with family and friends. Huge previously open areas, especially in Western states, began to be closed to off-road activity of any kind. Tracts of land as large as 100,000 acres were closed tighter than a whiskey barrel. Sometimes it was a single trail at a time. The uproar over these closures was loud and strong, and the fight to keep them open was tooth and nail, but rarely (and I mean almost never) were the closures halted.

At one point, it seemed as if one of the favorite pastimes of millions of Americans was being demonized. Off-roaders were painted as destroyers of precious wilderness, and the hobby we are so passionate about was often looked upon as almost criminal. However, off-road enthusiasts became savvy in the legal and legislative ways of the world and learned how to fight back against what were sometimes clearly abuses of the law and legislation.

In California, likely the hardest hit state with land closures, moves to gain back some of that access have recently been successful. An area of Glamis Dunes long locked up was just opened a year ago. A major portion of the Mojave Desert’s Johnson Valley, famous for it’s extreme rockcrawling trails and home of the world-famous King of the Hammers (KOH) desert race, was rescued from closure and is open much of the year (a portion of the year is reserved for warfare training exercises) for recreational and competitive four-wheeling.

The day on which I wrote this editorial (October 8, 2015), it was announced that legislation had been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to set aside 300,000 acres of California desert for off-road activities and expand OHV recreation areas by as much as 60,000 acres. The new legislation will create five new OHV recreation areas in Southern California and prevent the president from designating national monuments within OHV and Special Management areas created and expanded in this legislation.

The Eastern states have struggled too, won some, and lost some. The recent closure of a few seashores to off-road driving has been frustrating, to say the least. In New Jersey, ORV use in the Wharton Forest is threatened. The Ivy Branch trail system of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails was set to be closed just days after I wrote this, and it may be lost to ORV use by the time you read this.

The battle still rages in many parts of the country. At the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, long a popular Northwest region off-road playground, some trails have been closed to OHV use, and environmental activists lobby for even more closures. Some of the Oregon Dunes area has become overgrown with non-native invasive plants brought to the dunes to help control erosion and stabilize the shifting dunes. To help eradicate this non-native vegetation, local authorities have opened up certain areas and encouraged off-road activity to help eradicate the invasive vegetation. Of course, environmental advocates are unhappy with this invitation to help destroy invasive non-native vegetation and are protesting the practice.

This is both a celebration of success and a battle cry. We can’t slack off now just because we think we’re doing well. Complacency only leads to failure. Get involved or stay involved, and get loud. If you can pick up pen and paper or type an email to us, you can certainly do the same to your state senators and representatives. Make it clear you carry the most effective weapon in the land—your vote—and that they should pay attention to the passions of the millions of American off-road enthusiasts.

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