Lawsuit threatens off-road open riding in desert

By Karen Brainard

Two environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to shut down open riding at Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA), firing up the off-roading community for a fight.

“We have been bombarding the whole off-road community,” said Wayne Miller of Ramona.

The lawsuit claims that the open riding at Ocotillo Wells violates state mandates to protect desert soils, plants, wildlife, and archaeological sites.

Desiree Bates of Escondido has launched a Facebook page, Off-road groups and publications are encouraging people to send letters to elected officials to urge the California Department of Parks and Recreation, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, to defend its management of off-road use at Ocotillo Wells.

Off-roader Desiree Bates shares a photo of her family at Ocotillo Wells in 1977. She has launched a Facebook page, FightForOcotilloWells. Photo courtesy of Desiree Bates

Assemblyman Brian Jones, who has many constituents recreating at Ocotillo Wells, sent a letter to the state parks department encouraging the continuation of open riding.

“It’s one of the few open-riding areas left in the state,” said Miller.

The owner of Miller’s Off-Road Products said many Ramona families, as well as families throughout the county, recreate at Ocotillo Wells and respect the environment.

“The whole area is a real family-oriented area,” he said.

Named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Desert Protective Council (DPC). Filed May 21 in Sacramento, the suit seeks to order the state parks department and Division of Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation, along with its deputy director, Christopher Conlin, “to immediately cease and desist” the open off-road vehicle driving and restrict vehicle use to specifically-designated trails.

PEER says Ocotillo Wells is home to more than 1,200 archeological and historic sites with few having restricted access, and plant life is completely unprotected.

Desiree Bates’ father, Michael Bates, maneuvers his vehicle at Ball Hill in 1976. The area is now closed to off-road vehicles, she said. Photo courtesy of Desiree Bates

“We don’t have people destroy the archaeological sites,” said Jan Chaney, president of Friends of Ocotillo Wells.

“There are a lot of areas that are already fenced off and you can ride around. People respect the desert,” said Bates, who has enjoyed off-roading with her family at Ocotillo Wells for 35 years.

“None of us out there are trying to destroy any of the history. We want to see it preserved,” said Miller.

Friends of Ocotillo Wells  educates off-roaders on the history of the 85,000-acre park that once housed oil wells and was used as training grounds during World War II, said Chaney.

The nonprofit group also trains youths to ride quads, and raises money to help pay for the interpretive program and for any park maintenance the state cannot fund.

According to Miller, the Tiera Del Sol Four Wheel Drive Club’s annual Desert Safari event raises money to help fund clubs that provide trail maintenance.

Heading into its 52nd year, the Desert Safari draws about 10,000 people, said Miller, adding that eliminating open riding will put the event in jeopardy.

Tiera Del Sol is consulting with an attorney about the lawsuit and said the state parks department has 30 days from the filing date to respond.

PEER sent a letter to the director of state parks and recreation in early March, threatening to sue if open riding was not halted by March 29. California PEER Director Karen Schambach said her organization has repeatedly alerted the parks department of widespread illegal degradation, but the department defers any changes until a new General Plan is completed.

“That General Plan update, promised since 2007, never seems to get done,” she said. “We will not sit back and wait until the park is totally bereft of plants, wildlife and cultural resources.”

Ocotillo Wells District Superintendent Garratt Aitchison, who came to that post three months ago, said they are moving forward with the General Plan and it will address all environmental concerns.

As off-road groups wait to hear what action the state parks department will take, they are setting up information meetings and seeking ways to raise funds. On Saturday, June 8, S&S Off Road Magazine held a meeting in Imperial to give a  brief summary about the lawsuit and how to fight it.

For more information about the lawsuit and updated information, click here.

Related posts:

  1. Cedar Creek Falls to open, despite lawsuit
  2. Wildflower blooms popping up in desert
  3. Teen files federal lawsuit against sheriff’s deputies in Ramona
  4. Economy threatens parks
  5. The Desert’s Past Comes Alive at “Vallecito Days” March 10, 11

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Posted by Staff on Jun 11 2013. Filed under Featured Story, Government, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

5 Comments for “Lawsuit threatens off-road open riding in desert”

  1. j. Pinkerton

    peer needs to disappear

  2. Desert Camper

    This is another way for these types of groups to over step their place and position themselves to go after the few remaining open riding locations in the State. By shutting down Ocotillo and dispersing the off-road community to other locations, they can then lay claim that the same issues exist at those sites as well, forcing their overuse due to limited recreational areas for off-road enthusiast to enjoy. It’s important that we all do our part in protecting the sanctity on the desert by respecting the laws that are in place but, it is equally important that we preserve our rights to utilize the state park as it has been for generations. A place where family, friends and any off-road enthusiast can go to get away for a while and just enjoy the beauty and amenities the desert has to offer. Don’t wait for someone else to act for you, it is important that we all step up to plate and let the State and Courts know that we want Ocotillo to remain an open riding area for future generations to enjoy.

  3. ocotillo local

    no one in there right mind is gonna run over bushes with there expensive offroad tires i have a buggy and for all 4 tires its well over 500 for tires and on top of that thousands of offroaders come down to the ocotillo region to get away from city life the offroaders bring in alot of revenue to the state parks and local towns by buying drink food ice gas amd many other misc. items like whips shirts and many more.. if the offroading communities ar shut down the parks will go bankrupt as and the towns will be devestated economically

  4. gary reagles

    I lived for 20 years near the edge of the octillo riding area in Salton City. For 15 of those years it was not a problem with off roaders, Since the area was opened up a few years back, the offroaders have really shown no respect to the property owners in Salton City. In order to get fuel, camping supplies, alchohol or visit the local resturants, the offroaders insist on driving their vehicles across the open lots near and next to private residences. The amount of dust and noise is unbelieveable. After their weekend or so of terroizing the desert, they leave us to contend with the winds blowing dust and sand so hard it totally blocks your vision for driving. I moved from Ramona to the desert because of health problems. I now have had to move from the desert to Fallbrook because of breathing problems that occur when the wind blows all that dirt.
    sorry guys, but I am one that is all for shutting you down. I wrote a letter to the Park rangers and their response was, they couldn't educate you to stay off private property and to call the local sherriff. We have one sherriff to patrol the whole north county and respose time could be as long as two hours.
    I say move on and let the Salton City residences live a healthy life.

    • Ocotillo Wells Local

      You bought property in an area well known for off road use and complain of off roaders? You do have the option of fencing your property. We also live in the desert, in Ocotillo Wells, and the wind kicks up far more dust than any off road vehicles and the off roading has nothing to do with the wind.

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