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Adventure Trails under environmental review

March 5, 2014

A Forest Service crew erects a kiosk that will tell residents and visitors a little about the Adventure Trails program and how the route system can be used to their advantage. Several kiosks are being built in OHV recreation areas throughout the county. Photo courtesy Steve Toomey

Work is continuing on an environmental report for the pilot Adventure Trails program that proponents hope will attract tourists to the area for off-highway vehicle recreation.
When complete, the Eastern Sierra Adventure Trails Program will designate several city and county roads as “combined use.” The designation will allow licensed drivers of green-sticker off-highway vehicles, such as quads, ATVs and side-by-sides, to travel from local communities to OHV recreation areas using local streets and roads.
Adventure Trails was proposed by the local, nonprofit OHV group Advocates for Access to Public Lands and other community members. The idea was picked up and carried to Sacramento by legislators who ultimately proposed Assembly Bill 628, which allows the county and city to designate up to 10-mile stretches of local roads for combined use as a pilot project.
Inyo County Associate Planner Elaine Kabala said the pilot project has a “sunset” date in 2017. However, barring any unforeseen complications, she said the project could be implemented as early as the spring or summer of 2015. 
Bishop Public Works Director Dave Grah said work is currently under way on the Environmental Impact Report for the project by consultants, Inyo County Planning and City of Bishop staff.
The main purposes of the environmental phase of the project are to identify and evaluate impacts of the project and to identify mitigations for adverse impacts. 
Inyo County is leading the environmental analysis phase of the project. Kabala said that the results of the EIR may impact the timeline for the project. “Depending on the outcome of the EIR, the project could be implemented, but there could be roadblocks,” Kabala said.
During a series of public meetings hosted by the City of Bishop last fall, the Adventure Trails program received mixed reviews, with many residents celebrating the project as an opportunity for economic growth and others expressing concerns of having OHVs traveling on city streets and roads, particularly in residential areas where residents have the expectation of peace and quiet.
Those who expressed opposition against the project asked city and county officials to address traffic safety and noise concerns in the EIR.
On Oct. 11, 2013 Inyo County filed an Initial Study and Evaluation of Potential Impacts of the project.
According to a staff report from the Inyo County Planning Department, the Initial Study “indicates that the proposed project could potentially have a significant adverse impact on the environment or require mitigation to avoid potentially significant adverse effects on the environment.”
According to the staff report, the project has the potential to impact “aesthetic resources, air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards, hazardous materials, hydrology and water quality, land use and planning, noise, public services, recreation, transportation and traffic, and could have cumulatively considerable environmental impacts.”
The EIR is designed to address those potential issues, and Kabala said the document should be available for public comment this summer, with associated public meetings and other outreach.
This environmental effort is paid for with a grant the county received from “green sticker” funds collected from OHV users. Grah said that it is expected the comment period will include at least one public hearing. “Project implementation must wait until after the environmental process is complete,” Grah said.
In addition to completing the environmental analysis phase, before project implementation, the California Highway Patrol has the opportunity to make a safety determination regarding the proposed routes. Grah said work is still under way with the CHP on safety determinations for the City of Bishop routes. At the end of the process for routes in Bishop, the city will also take final action to designate the combined-use routes within the city limits.
Likewise, the county will be required to take action on all routes outside the city limits.
Project proponents said they are developing the Adventure Trails program to draw outdoor recreators to Inyo County. AAPL President Dick Noles said last year that other states, including Utah, have implemented similar programs and developed marketing strategies around those programs.
For its part, AAPL is working with state and federal agencies to develop an OHV recreation map that will clearly outline which city and county roads are included in the Adventure Trails Project, and what areas of Inyo County are available for OHV recreation.
The basic idea, he said, is to ensure that OHV users who come to the area know where to play, and have an opportunity to access those areas as well as amenities like food and fuel without having to change vehicles.
The Inyo County Notice of Preparation for the environmental document is posted at http://inyoplanning.org/projects/documents/AdventureTrails_NOP-2013.10.10.pdf. More information about the Adventure Trails project is available at the Inyo websites http://www.inyoltc.org/ab628impl.html and http://inyoplanning.org/projects/AdventureTrails.htm.

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