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A rumble over Clear Creek

Thursday, September 16, 2004

By Erin Musgrave/Staff Writer

Hollister - Emotions ran high between off-highway vehicle users and environmentalists at a public comment meeting concerning land use of the Clear Creek Management Area Wednesday night, however a desire to work together toward a solution emerged through the animosity.

More than 60 people attended the meeting held at the Veterans Memorial Building, the majority of them off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, to voice their concerns to the Bureau of Land Management staff about a plan that could limit the amount of routes available for public use.

The plan outlines several alternatives concerning activities at Clear Creek, including an alternative to cut almost half the number of open trails and an alternative to limit none.

The possibility of limited routes is a result of growing environmental concerns and pressure from environmentalists who say that OHV use harms native plants in the area such as the San Benito Evening Primrose.

Sean Simoskevitz said he’s been riding at Clear Creek for 25 years as a way to relieve the stresses of every day life and because it’s one of the safest places available for OHV users.

“We have fun, it creates great attitudes, great attitudes create great people,” he said. “When you close it down, it creates depression… You create angry people, and angry people get ugly.”

Brian Leneve, a representative from the California Native Plant Society, expressed frustration over the BLM’s non-action concerning use and protection of the area. The BLM attempted to implement a management plan in 1998 but never followed through.

“Lets get it done,” Leneve said. “We will not tolerate you sitting on this for the next (six) years. If you don’t get it done, you’ll be faced with the same group of angry people you have here now.”

The California Native Plant Society, along with recreation group the Blue Ribbon Coalition, have threatened to file law suits if some kind of management plan is not developed soon.

Turlock resident Josh Starkweather said he frequents Clear Creek because it’s the only area where he can take his children riding and not worry about them getting in an accident with another rider.

“You take away our trails, you take away our safety,” Starkweather said.

Other OHV areas such as Hollister Hills have too many riders in too small of an area and aren’t as safe as Clear Creek, said Joyce Ponton.

“That’s what we’re up against at Clear Creek,” she said.

Ed Tobin, spokesman for the Salinas Ramblers Motorcycle Club, said OHV users are more than willing to work with the BLM and environmentalists to find a solution that everyone can accept, but stressed that limiting routes isn’t the right solution.

While speaking at the podium, he asked members of the audience to raise their hands if they had either been in a head-on collision or almost had a head-on at Clear Creek.

Almost every person in the room raised their hand.

“And that’s with almost 500 miles of routes,” Tobin said. “What do you think is going to happen with 200?”

While most people spoke about the years spent riding at Clear Creek with their families and the togetherness the area brings, only Dan Peterson, the northern director for the California Off-Road Vehicle Association, spoke about an alternative solution not listed on the BLM’s plan.

Peterson said if the available land is continually diminished, the area left will be completely demolished.

He suggested dividing the land into three sections and closing one section off every five years to be rehabilitated, and then rotating the sections through over the years so none of it is damaged beyond repair.

“It’s a more viable way instead of a wholesale close-off,” he said.

Many of the OHV users supported Peterson’s alternative, but Jeremiah Starkweather expressed concern that if a section was closed off it may never be re-opened.

“When you close areas down you don’t ever get it back - that’s what everyone here is so fired up about,” he said. “Because we know we’re never gonna get it back.”

The public comment period on the plan is open until Oct. 15, and people may submit comments in writing or by logging onto the BLM’s Web site until that time, said Sky Murphy, environmental coordinator for the BLM.

The final draft management plan won’t be issued until next summer, and at that time more public comment meetings will be held before the BLM makes a decision about trail limits, Murphy said.

“It truly is a special area and we’re trying to work hard to come up with a balanced approach to maintain the challenge, the safety and the enjoyment of everyone,” he said.

Comments may be sent to the Bureau of Land Management Hollister Field Office at 20 Hamilton Ct., Hollister, Ca. 95023, or online at www.ca.blm.gov/hollister.

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