Federal plan to create scenic area near Vegas draws criticism

LAS VEGAS (AP) – Outdoor enthusiasts in Nevada fear that a federal proposal to improve the Calico Basin could have the opposite effect and hamper access to the popular, free recreation area in the mountains just west of Las Vegas.

The Bureau of Land Management is looking to adopt a new long-term plan to meet current and anticipated future demand in the basin while protecting the natural and cultural resources on the 5,000-acre (7.8-square-mile) site. , the Las Vegas Review -Journal reported.

The Calico Basin, located at the eastern end of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, offers hiking, rock climbing and other recreational activities. Attendance has increased since the early 2000s with the population of the valley.


The proposed master plan, known as the Recreation Area Management Plan and Draft Environmental Assessment, calls for the imposition of a $ 20 entry fee and assessment of the use of a online booking to allow the agency to control visits.

The changes would be consistent with how the BLM manages the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Loop, including maintaining the same hours of operation, which vary depending on the time of year. Paid entry into the Scenic Loop would take visitors to the Calico Basin, and vice versa, but customers couldn’t book entry into both areas for the exact same time.

It is a strategy that would replace a plan signed in 2003 which officials say is no longer adequate.

In a virtual hearing to address the proposal on Nov. 18, Josh Travers, deputy field director for the BLM’s office in Red Rock Canyon and Sloan, assured dozens of attendees that “we’re not putting a system in place. which restricts access “.

The opposition was not convinced.

“It deters low-income people even more from using it and we’re seeing a lot of it,” said Gabriel Lewis, a local climber and climate change scientist. “It’s not just the rich whites who are climbing up to Vegas which is one of the nicest things.”

QUESTION OF FINANCE

In its draft plan, the BLM indicates that 100% of the costs would be reinvested in the maintenance and improvement of the basin and that crowd control at the site will help to keep it sustainable.

Additional revenue would be spent on increased law enforcement and patrols, new programs, more signs and upgraded facilities, according to the plan.

No charge to supplement existing recreation funds, and if a reservation system is not put in place, there will not be enough money to monitor and protect the territory’s resources according to expected growth, according to the agency.

Annual attendance at the recreation area has more than quadrupled since 2003 to reach around 700,000 people in 2019, according to the BLM. The agency estimates that annual attendance will reach 1 million people by 2024 as the population continues to increase in the Las Vegas area.

“We need to implement a system that allows us not only to collect a fee but also, as a priority we have identified in this plan, to manage for the safety of all visitors to the Calico Basin,” said declared Travers.

ALTERNATIVES SOUGHT

Among other concerns, critics argued that the gates could cause crowd problems, the opening hours would spell the end of summer bouldering, as climbers often choose to participate in the activity on cooler evenings, and the proposed changes were too drastic.

“What we should be focusing on, instead of building structures and gates to keep people out, is educating the public on how to be better stewards of the earth,” said Bryan Friesen, climber and member of the board of directors of the Southern Nevada Climbers Coalition.

Some outdoor enthusiasts who attended the meeting suggested a paid parking system as a more reasonable approach. Others called for expanded access for users who frequented the park or volunteered.

John Hegyes, a longtime climber in the Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, said the toll booths appeared to create a gated community for private landowners on the Calico Basin, prompting taxpayers to fund a private benefit .

Almost all of the Calico Basin is federal land, with the exception of approximately 210 acres (85 hectares), where nearly 40 homes are built.

He wanted more details on how residents would be allowed to bypass vehicle lines. Travers said details will be part of the implementation phase of the plan once direction is finalized.

ONLINE PETITIONS

Last Friday, a Change.org petition to keep the Calico Basin free and open around the clock had garnered more than 2,300 signatures.

A separate petition to legitimize mountain bike paths, which were built but are not allowed and will continue to be banned under the BLM’s plan, had received nearly 2,200 signatures.

Travers said it’s a challenge to enable multi-use recreation in such a busy area, and mountain biking requires an extensive network of trails. Existing trails created by users, he said, had not gone through the agency’s process, which examines effects on natural and cultural resources.

Equestrian activity will continue to be permitted, he said.

BALANCING INTERESTS

In an interview, Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones, who represents the district comprising the Calico Basin, told the Review-Journal he understands both sides.

“We have to find this balance between accessing and (combating) the overuse or destruction of the resources we have,” he said.

As an avid cyclist who started mountain biking during the pandemic, Jones said he didn’t think mountain bikers should have unlimited access to ride anywhere, noting that there was other trails to use in Red Rock Canyon.

“I think it remains to be seen if the Calico Basin, in particular, is the best place for mountain biking,” he said.

But he also said he wanted to take a closer look at the matter as well as other concerns that had been raised by outdoor enthusiasts, including those who contacted him.

THE PUBLIC ENCOURAGED To weigh

The BLM began the process of its proposed management plan a year ago, began public awareness early this year, and launched a 30-day public comment period on November 8.

The agency will continue to accept public comments on the plan by email or post until Wednesday.


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