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River recreation options unveiled in Lone Pine

March 1, 2012

Inyo County Water Department Mitigation Manager Larry Freilich prepares to introduce consultant Dean Apostol of MIG to a crowd of local residents at the Boulder Creek Club House in Lone Pine last Friday. Apostol previewed the results of the the Lower Owens River Recreation Use Plan, which includes three levels of options for offering recreational opportunities in and around the revitalized river. Photo by Charles James

A generally receptive and supportive crowd received a presentation of the Lower Owens River Project Recreation Use Plan Friday evening, Feb. 24, at the Boulder Creek Club House in Lone Pine.
Consultant Dean Apostol of MIG previewed the results of the plan which includes three levels of options for offering recreational opportunities in and around the revitalized river.
Earlier in the day, an abridged version of the presentation was given to the Inyo/L.A. Standing Committee meeting at Inyo County Administrative Center in Independence, where it was also well-received. According to Inyo County Water Department Mitigation Project Manager Larry Freilich, the visitors from the Los Angeles City Council and the Department of Water and Power expressed great interest and support of the project.
The main questions at the Standing Committee meeting were “Who is using the river now?” and “Is there an implementation budget?”
The LORP area is a 62-mile stretch of the Lower Owens River starting south of Big Pine to the Owens River Delta area south of Lone Pine. The formerly dewatered section of the river appeals to recreationists who enjoy bird watching, wildlife viewing, hunting and fishing, photography and other outdoor activities in a natural setting.
Other activities on and along the river could include canoeing and kayaking, horseback riding, hiking and bicycling. Properly planned, developed and managed, tourism generated from the river and its environs has the potential to be an economic boon to the towns in southern Inyo County.
As Freilich with Inyo County noted about the recreation plan, “LADWP workers can take pride in, not just creating habitat, but also in the increasing recreation potential the project brings … and bringing economic benefits to the local communities.” Not surprisingly, the devil is in the details.
But even without a recreational plan, increased use and easier access brings about concerns over the development of unauthorized roads, and problems including waste dumping, vandalism, illegal fires, artifact gathering, and vegetation clearing. Controlling tule growth in the river was a major topic of concern for boating and fishing. Managing these problems could be costly for LADWP and the county, and possibly conflict with the goals of the LORP unless it is carefully planned and managed.
Inyo County began development of a recreational use plan in 2010 under a Proposition 84 grant from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. The draft plan, just released, was designed to balance the needs to protect the recovering riverine-riperian habitat, respect traditional values and uses, provide attractive recreational opportunities, not interfere with LADWP’s operations, and to be consistent with LORP goals.
There are three options. All three are minimal improvements according to Freilich which, out of consideration for new habitat, have the goal to increase recreational use through modest, incremental improvements.
Option 1 is the most basic level and proposes the lowest level of recreation, concentrating use at a few key points along the river; Option 2 adds several areas for recreation and upgrades the types of facilities; Option 3 provides a higher level of service in the number, location and types of facilities. Crucial to its success are easily identifiable portals (entrances) and signage for visitors traveling along the highway and county roads.
Kiosks are suggested to provide descriptive information, maps and trails to make it easy for visitors to know where they are and where they can go next. According to Apostol, the higher level of service that appeals to the greatest number of interests and users, can result in a recreation plan that can be self-sustaining through fees and provide economic benefits.
After the presentation, questions and comments were taken from the gathering.
Jaque Hickman, owner of the Boulder Creek RV Park, noted that Inyo County is a “destination.” She favors the full-amenities plan (Plan 3) to make it easier for visitors to enjoy the recreational opportunities offered by the Lower Owens River. Hickman said, “We need to be good hosts. At the same time we should be aware of the concerns of any potential increased liability to our ranchers, while also being sensitive to the need for protection of Native Americans cultural sites along the river.”
Inyo County Fifth District Supervisor Richard Cervantes said he believes the LORP Recreation Use Plan could be a huge economic and environmental resource for southern Inyo County, but the sticking point for implementation will be funding sources. He feels the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center at the south end of Lone Pine would be the ideal hub from which visitors could start.
Jon Turner, co-owner of Elevation sporting goods store in Lone Pine, commented that he felt there was room for progression from one option to another to provide increased access to more locations. He noted that too much access to one location can create unnaturalized conditions, therefore the sooner the plan could move to Option 3 with its greater number of portals, easier access points, and larger variety of recreational opportunities, the better. Turner commented that, “Speaking as a business owner, I like the wide variety of options. I’m really excited and feel if we can get these portals and rest areas sponsored similar to ‘Adopt-a Highway’ programs, we could possibly move quickly forward and generate enthusiasm within our communities.”
Turner did, however, express concern that using the Visitors Center located outside of town as the centralized hub for the recreational area may eliminate foot traffic in town, which helps local businesses. He feels it was a shame that the visitors center was not built in town because, “We need to have visitors stop in town, not driving through it after going to the Visitors Center.”
Sierra Club representative Mark Bagley, who helped negotiate the 1997 MOU policy on the LORP, and is also the director with Owens Valley Committee, said he thought the options presented provide a good framework for further discussions. He noted, “The lack of planning for recreation on the LORP was really too bad. I think basically DWP doesn’t want to have anything to do with recreation. They don’t seem to think it is part of their mission even though this project was supposed to have some recreation component to it. I am hopeful however that some good will come of this.”
Fifth District County Supervisor candidate and Lone Pine resident Matt Kingsley commented afterwards that he felt “the planning effort is good and any of the three options could be acceptable. I would like to see continued effort at the county level to make sure this isn’t just another great idea or plan that gets put on the shelf. This is something that I would be very interested in to promote our tourism and economy, but it will take cooperation and committed leadership to make it happen.”
Generally those at the meeting were optimistic about the project and its potential for increased tourism. Many felt it important that easy access, signage, and providing a range of less arduous recreational activities on and along the river would be an important selling point in bringing more visitors to the area.
To view the LORP Recreational Use Plan, visit the LORP section of the Inyo County Water Department website www.inyowater.org  or www.lowerowensriver.org. Copies of the plan are also available at the Inyo County libraries.
For more information, contact Larry Freilich, Inyo County Water Department mitigation manager, at (760) 878-0001.

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