Four-wheelers want changes in BLM plan for South Fork Canyon

ELKO, Nev. - Off-road vehicle enthusiasts want the Bureau of Land Management to alter plans to cut off some motorized access to the historic Donner Party Trail's Hastings Cutoff in the South Fork Canyon Recreation Area State Park.

But a BLM official said Friday there's general support growing behind the plan, including a compromise proposal by a county commissioner to close about 1 mile of road in the canyon but open it up for a day or two a year to full access.

The BLM is proposing closing down roads that traverse riparian areas, but leaving open part of the main road, currently in bad need of repair.

The main road, which is the Elko-Hamilton Stage Route Road, would be replaced as the main route into the canyon by another BLM road, which backers say would be in better condition and thus save time.

Members of the four-wheel club the Bangin' Bones met with BLM and Elko County Commission officials at the site this week and agreed to discuss the proposals further.

Commissioner Brad Roberts suggested a day or weekend per year where access to the full length of the canyon's roads would be allowed, but on a tightly supervised basis.

Helen Hankins, Elko field manager for the BLM, said Roberts' suggestion is ''a real good idea.

''It allows for the resource to recover and protect some of the values along the stream while still allowing for the off-highway vehicles to use the area,'' Hankins said Friday.

''We had general agreement when we left the site that was how we were going to proceed,'' she said.

Hankins emphasized the plan, officially called the South Fork Humboldt River Interdisciplinary Management Plan, calls for limited facilities and a small park and parking area near the river with another road built for access, was still in the preliminary stage.

Bangin' Bones President Mike Martsolf said he will meet again with Hankins Monday to continue discussions on the plan.

Martsolf said he is against denying access to a stretch of the canyon that features what he calls ''world class 4-wheeling,'' and that he has offered his club's services in a ''cooperative maintenance agreement with the BLM to mark, maintain the trail and put riprap on the river bank,'' but said his offers have so far ''fallen on deaf ears.''

Martsolf is also the northern land use director for Nevada United 4-Wheeler Association and said it ''was terribly disrespectful to spend federal money these people pay taxes on and then not to allow them access'' to portions of the project area.

Martsolf said the BLM is creating a ''defacto wilderness study area'' and admitted that off-road recreational users have destroyed environmentally sensitive areas in the past, but his group was in favor of ''sound environmental outdoor recreation.''

The project is worth $460,500 and includes new fencing, cattleguards, tree planting, seeding, interpretive signs and other amenities.

Commissioner Tony Lesperance said he felt comfortable with the plan's projected closings of roads created willy-nilly by off-roaders.

Bangin' Bones trail boss Loren Highland said he was on the field trip to ''keep the roads open, to keep this area open to the public.''

Highland said earlier statements he had heard led him to believe the BLM was going to close the entire area to four-wheelers.

He echoed Martsolf's belief that off-road experiences were not meant to destroy habitat and that the club acted in responsible way towards the environment.


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