ST. GEORGE – U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch’s office is working on draft legislation that would create a national recreation area on approximately 21,760 acres of land in the current Sand Mountain off-highway vehicle area near Sand Hollow State Park. If passed, the bill would guarantee that the area remains permanently open to off-highway vehicle use.
Creating a national recreation area with language mandating open OHV access in perpetuity would take this decision out of the hands of Bureau of Land Management, Hatch spokesperson Heather Barney said.
“It would mean that if anyone were to want to restrict access or develop in this area it would require an act of Congress, as opposed to the current BLM authority,” Barney said.
The bill would create the “Hurricane Sand Dunes National Recreation Area,” which would encompass most of the current Sand Mountain OHV area. Historically, the area has been called the “Hurricane Sand Dunes” and “Sand Hollow OHV Area.”
“The bill is currently a discussion draft, meaning we are working with the stakeholders involved to improve the language so that we have something we can all support before Senator Hatch introduces it, or doesn’t, depending on the feedback we receive,” said Barney.
The proposed recreation area encompasses all of the Sand Mountain OHV area above the edge of the plateau, but not the lower part where there are ATV and motorcycle trails, said Utah Public Lands Alliance President Gil Meacham.
“They’re proposing to take everything at the top of the rim, from over by the Hurricane airport, over to the rim above Warner Valley, and from the new Southern Parkway to the rim on the other side – all that area they want to make into a national recreation area with the exception of the 1,200 acres involved in the proposed land exchange,” Meacham said.
The draft bill in its current state specifically excludes a 1,200-acre piece that is part of a proposed land exchange between the county and developer Bob Brennan.
Brennan owns about 800 acres of land in the Green Springs area, and his property is inside the borders of the Habitat Conservation Plan, established to protect the desert tortoise. The county is under pressure to finish up the purchase or exchange of remaining property in the HCP, as a 2015 deadline looms for the renewal of the HCP.
However, the proposed land exchange involving the 1,200 acre property in the Sand Mountain OHV Area is being vigorously opposed by off-road enthusiasts, who counter that there are many other areas in the county which could be traded to Brennan instead.
“That 1,200 acres was never on the BLM’s list of ‘disposable properties,’” Meacham said. “It should never have been considered for exchange.”
If the land trade goes through and the property is developed as planned, it would significantly degrade the off-road experience at Sand Mountain and cause conflicts between residents and users of the OHV area, Meacham said.
Barney said the 1,200 acres labeled “exchange parcel” was left out of the proposed bill because Hatch does not want to interfere with ongoing negotiations between the BLM, the county, and the OHV community.
“The Senator is not taking sides in that exchange,” Barney said.
Hatch’s office is currently gathering feedback from the OHV community and others to make improvements to the bill. Hatch has stated that he will not introduce the bill if it does not have the support of the OHV community, she said.
Off-road enthusiasts and local land use advocates are interested in getting permanent protection for the off-highway vehicle area but have concerns about the proposed bill.
While UPLA and other interested parties have not yet formally responded to the bill proposal, they are generally in favor, with some reservations.
“We have things that we feel like would make the bill more palatable for us. We still feel like it should include the 1,200 acres because it is legally owned by the government at this point in time, so they could certainly do that,” Meacham said, “but, with the bill, we would protect the rest of the area from being lost.”
Besides the 1,200 acres in the proposed land exchange, other concerns expressed by the off-road community include how and by what agency the new recreation area would be managed.
Almost all national recreation areas are managed by the U.S. Park Service or the U.S Forest Service, and this raises concerns because neither agency is known to be friendly towards off-highway vehicles.
“In the United States, the majority of national recreation areas are managed by the park service. The park service and the forest service are notorious for having a green attitude – ‘the more roads you shut down, the better off your area is going to be.’ As far as mechanized recreation goes, they are pretty ‘anti,'” Meacham said.
Meacham gave the example of the area around Lake Mead.
“(The area around Lake Mead) was designated a national recreation area, and immediately they closed down hundreds and hundreds of miles of roads down there,” Meacham said.
The same thing happened at Glen Canyon, the national recreation area around Lake Powell.
“Over the years since they created the dam and the lake, they’ve shut down pretty much all the road system,” Meacham said.
Similar road closures followed the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
“It would be better if it was managed by the BLM, except that they can sell or liquidate property unless it is a national recreation area,” Casey Lofthouse said. Lofthouse is an off-road enthusiast, Washington County Search and Rescue volunteer and local off-road business owner.
Lofthouse also expressed the desire to keep the area free of buildings and development of any kind, to retain the views and vistas the area currently offers to visitors.
“It would be beneficial to manage the area ‘as is’ without any improvements to infrastructure or additional improvements in the future. This area is at its splendor without any changes or buildings or campgrounds being added to it,” Lofthouse said in a letter, responding to the proposed bill.
“We want the bill to maintain the current management and practices for the open OHV area – the current practices of the Sand Mountain Special Recreation Management Area, so it would be still be open OHV and no fees,” Meacham said.
The local BLM office has not had any official notification about the proposed bill, said Jim Tyree, field manager of the St. George BLM field office.
“We’ve heard about something like that, but we don’t have any of the details, and it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of it,” Tyree said. With any pending legislation, the BLM’s Washington Public Affairs office will contact the BLM Legislative Affairs Office, and ask for pros and cons and other feedback, he said.
“They will come to the field from our legislative office, but I have not been contacted yet, no,” said Tyree.
Sen. Mike Lee is working with Hatch’s office on the proposed bill, said Lee’s press secretary, Emily Long.
“It is premature to discuss the details for now,” Long said.
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- Desert tortoise land dispute triggers lawsuit against county
- Winter on the Rocks at Sand Mountain, rivaling Moab; STGnews Videocast, Photo Gallery
- Habitat Conservation area landowner seeks Sand Mountain land swap; OHV community concerned
- Conservation Plan, Red Cliffs Reserve expiration looms; bridging interests for development, preservation
- WORCS offroad event’s dusty thrills, spills on Sand Mountain; STGnews Photo Gallery
- Sand Hollow land swap a sticky issue
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.