Carson City making plans for Prison Hill
Carson City Open Space in the next few months plans to release a draft master plan for more than a quarter of the city’s open space.
The plan is for Prison Hill, which covers 2,500 acres, including 960 acres set aside for off-highway vehicle use.
The Open Space department has been working for years, since the Bureau of Land Management conveyed the land to the city in 2015, to build and reconstruct hiking trails with partner Muscle Powered on the bulk of the property and to update trailheads.
At the same time, it is figuring out how to rehab the OHV area after years of unmanaged access — at times to the satisfaction of neither the hikers, dirt bikers nor OHV enthusiasts.
“It’s a challenge between managing the OHV area and the needs of other users and protecting the resources as best we can,” said Gregg Berggren, trails coordinator, at the Feb. 24 meeting of the Open Space Advisory Committee.
The OHV area is increasingly popular, used all week and not just on weekends, said Berggren, exacerbating the problem.
Hikers there say the OHV property is suffering from erosion and other damage and nearby neighbors complain of OHVs trespassing on their property.
“The impact on the land is exponentially worse than it ever was under BLM,” said Robyn Orloff, a Carson City resident who routinely visits Prison Hill. “There is more use, and abuse and misuse, of the land, across the land, than ever before from my observation running every inch of it for years.”
Meanwhile, the department has limited resources to quickly fix the problems.
“We’re trying to implement some of the recommendations that have been made,” said Bruce Scott, chair of the advisory committee at the recent meeting. “You’ve got to give us time to do the plan.”
The city is working with National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOVCC) to redesign trails in the OHV area, which have proliferated over the years.
“We have a draft design, which could change as we move forward,” said Berggren. “We’ll implement the plan in phases.”
The area was inventoried in 2018 and included 71 miles of trails, which is being reduced to 24 miles in the design.
This week Open Space posted an interim trail map online and made it available for download to mobile devices and on paper at the property.
The department also recently put in a gate off Golden Eagle Lane and added barriers and signs at various points inside the OHV area to keep motorized vehicles off trails that take them into private property.
“We also installed two barriers on the west side near the Snyder entrance, which are meant to be temporary, to discourage entry into a small area where we are seeing excessive resource damage,” said Berggren. “We hope to be able define precise routes through this area in the future and then remove the barriers.”
Berggren has heard from OHV users upset with the restrictions.
Paul Quade is executive director of Silver State Off Road Alliance, a new group working to provide a unified voice for the state’s 50 or so OHV user groups.
Quade believes that once the area is properly fenced with signage it will promote responsible use.
“Certainly, our goal is to work with other recreationists to reduce conflict,” said Quade. “If our (users) saw the trail plan they’d be superstoked to see this going in.”
The city is monitoring the area. Lyndsey Boyer, senior natural resource specialists, has set up 20 sites in the OHV property to photograph and watch out for erosion and other damage.
All this follows continued public outreach. Open Space last summer posted a survey taken by 197 respondents. Among their concerns, a quarter of respondents said trash dumping, 19 percent said fire prevention, 13 percent said all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes, 11 percent said erosion, 9 percent said illegal camping, and 6 percent said weeds.
Open Space followed that up with an open house in January, attended by at least 100 people, who were presented with different plans for the property off Koontz Lane that provides a trailhead and parking.
Prison Hill, as well as Silver Saddle Ranch, has a conservation easement attached to it, which requires the dedicated OHV area and for BLM to monitor the property to protect the natural resource.
City staff, members of the advisory committee, and staff from BLM toured the site last week.
“The current use of the OHV area at Prison Hill is compliant with the conservation easement. There was an informal analysis of the terms of the conservation easement and the city is in compliance with those terms,” said Paul Fuselier, assistant field manager, Sierra Front Field Office, Carson City District, BLM.
Next, the master plan draft when ready will be presented to the open space committee as well as the Parks and Recreation Commission and available for public comment.