Inyo County is on the road to adventure now that planning efforts for a dual-use on- and off-road network are awaiting approval from state and local agencies.
The Adventure Trails map is currently in the hands of county road planners, the California Highway Patrol, Caltrans, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. Once those agencies sign off on the proposal, project proponents will seek community input before beginning implementation.
Inyo County’s pilot Adventure Trails project will designate several segments of county- and city-owned roads of up to 10 miles as dual-use. The designation, according to proponents, will allow green- sticker off-highway vehicles to travel on these roads between OHV recreation areas and local communities in order to access fuel and other amenities.
Local nonprofit Advocates for Access to Public Lands proposed the Adventure Trails project in 2011 and quickly generated support from local legislators, county and city leaders and the California Highway Patrol.
Adventure Trails proponent and local business owner Randy Gillespie said Inyo County has the ability to designate routes up to 10 miles in length thanks to Assembly Bill 628, which was passed in 2012. Prior to AB628, the maximum dual-use route allowed was three miles.
With legislation drafted that would allow AAPL to designate segments of county roads up to 10 miles as dual use, the Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued Inyo County last June. The lawsuit alleged that Inyo County had not done enough to address impacts that would be caused by the project.
“The county and the people who have sued them have reached an agreement,” AAPL member and project proponent Steve Toomey said. “The county can work on implementation, and at the time to process routes, the county must come forward with an environmental document. But it’s up to the legal beagles to decide what kind of document is appropriate.” Toomey said that document may be anything from a Negative Declaration of impacts, to an Environmental Impact Report.
But before that document is released, AAPL and its cooperating agencies need to complete maps of the proposed system.
Project leaders, working with Inyo County Road Director Courtney Smith, have identified the routes they want to include in the Adventure Trails program, and have sent their proposals to agencies that are impacted.
Gillespie said the CHP will review the entire map while Caltrans looks into the safety of several OHV crossings at U.S. 395.
While those agencies review the proposal, Gillespie said Inyo County and the City of Bishop are also taking a look at the proposals and how the proposed routes will impact residents.
The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are reviewing the maps to ensure that the areas in their jurisdictions where paved roads meet dirt roads are safe and appropriate for motorists.
Gillespie said each of the above-mentioned agencies have the ability to make recommend changes to the maps to alleviate any safety concerns. Once those comments have been received and the appropriate changes have been made, proponents will draft a California Environmental Quality Act document and begin the public review process, which will include public meetings in each of the affected communities: Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine and Bishop.
“From public review, we’ll go right into signage and maps” and officially open the Adventure Trails system, Gillespie said.
Gillespie and Toomey said there is no firm time line for when the public review process will take place, as it is unclear how long each of the partner agencies will need to review the proposed system. However, they did say that the goal is to have OHV users on the Adventure Trails system before the end of this summer.
To implement the program once the review process is complete, organizers will install Adventure Trails signs on all dual-use routes with markers at all intersections where dirt roads lead to OHV recreation areas.
Proponents are also looking into the availability of grants to help fund a number of Adventure Trails kiosks that will show OHV users appropriate recreation areas and which roads they can take to get back to town.
Toomey said the group is also looking into funding that would pay for signage east of Eastside Road in Bishop that would identify the area as a recreation destination for OHV users. Those signs, he said, would include the degree of difficulty for many individual dirt roads, giving users “a level of confidence” when using unfamiliar routes.
“What we want to do is create more family type participation so people can get out there and without the threat of getting into a challenge outside of their difficulty range,” Toomey said.
Overall, Gillespie said the system “is a great thing for the public” that has the potential to draw responsible visitors to the area to ride OHVs. That, in turn, will improve the local economy because visitors to the area will have direct access to local businesses.