Creating the future of Anza-Borrego State Park
by Jim Ricker
he room at the Marriott was jammed with public. Red-shirted "San Diego 4-Wheelers" joined with a scattering of environmentalists and a bunch of people who were just interested in the future of their desert park. The 75 or so seats were doubled, but still there were not enough seats. There was not enough room, either. The People, caring, spilled out into the hall. The room was set up with a slide projector, butcher paper on the walls for public comments, and selected maps of the park. Everything was crowded the cookies were gone in a flash, and they ran out of water.
Dave Van Cleve, Southern District Superintendent, welcomed us to the meeting with a joke about a meeting he did once with only one rancher attending - quite different than tonight. He asked us to remember, "Every need doesn't have to be filled by the Anza-Borrego State Park; there is other desert out there." He was only mildly defensive. These guys were checking us out, seeing if it was going to be a meeting like the one held in Borrego Springs last April, which I heard got a little out of hand. He encouraged us to "think big and think to the future." He introduced Clay Phillips, Southern Service Center Manager.
Clay started off with a juggling act. He first tossed a coyote gourd up in the air, then a cholla ball (!), then a whiffle ball to represent the various interests at stake in this deal. He nervously eyed the crowd, talking about the park, juggling, watching how this act was going over with us. We went for it, and the OHVers even laughed at this visual aid, applauding as he added the third ball to the juggle.
The General Plan will take about two years to complete, and will focus on general issues. For example, it will not specify the size and number of campsites in the park, but will address the factors that shape the decision to plan campsites in a future specific Management Plan on that issue. 2001 will be a year of presenting the alternatives; the plan should be done in 2002.
Phillips gave a short explanation of the factors which will guide the plan: the mandates from the State legislature and the Federal Government, like CEQUA and the ESA, and the factors at work in managing the park, like the resources and uses of the park by people. He seemed to be emphasizing the idea of "High Quality Recreation," whether as a sop to the OHV community or to the environmental community was not clear. But his statement that "recreation" was a "resource" was disturbing.
"Recreation is not a resource," I said, "It's what we do to a resource."
Clay announced the beginning of a study by the University of Montana of the recreational uses in the Park, an item that pricked up the ears of the OHVers present, and got my attention, too. These guys at UM do work for the US Park Service, and the off-roaders were frankly worried about a waste of money - and about what they would find. Suppose they catch a bunch of miners and cattlemen in their net; does that mean graze and dig?
Ronnie Clark next gave us a brief presentation on the resources of the Park. Once again, I was disturbed. Look at the list of resources from the Agenda that she went through, and the order in which they are presented: (under "Natural and Cultural Resources"): Aesthetics; Recreation; Wildlife; Plants; Geology/Paleontology; Archaeology; History. Notice that Wildlife and Plants come after Aesthetics and Recreation. Notice also that they are listed as resources.
It was an informative presentation. Anza-Borrego, with 600,000 - 850,000 annual visitors, has 500 miles of road, 90 plant communities, 6 mountain ranges, a 6,000,000-year paleontological history of plants and animals, and is the only known habitat of the torote, the elephant tree of the Southwest. It has "vistas of vastness, diversity, subtleties of light and colors of landscape from sea level to 6,000 feet." After this presentation came a break with no cookies, during which some of us graffitied the walls with our comments. Public comment was next.
The room was dominated by various users, with the A-group being the OHV rider. They have very basic, specific goals, as expressed by Jim Mcgarvie of the San Diego Off-Road Coalition. They want to open up the park to OHV use, period. "Just because a vehicle has a green sticker doesn't make it different from one with a license plate," he said. With one voice, they called for access to the "historic Anza Trail," their code for Coyote Canyon, and claimed that people don't have anything to do with the demise of the bighorn sheep. "After all, the Indians lived with them for thousands of years." They had red shirts and numbers, but were not aggressive tonight, and there was a minimum of whining. They made the usual claims of good citizenship, volunteerism, family values, freedom, access for all.
There were other requests. One was to ease up the rules for hang gliders, because they are not noisy. Another was to save the "wild horses" of the Coyote Canyon area. Get rid of the Day Use Fee. Make more bicycle trails.
From around the room came the calls from the Friends of the Planet. Nick Ervin suggested that the plan come up with a number for the carrying capacity of people for the park - which the park staff said wouldn't happen. He also asked the staff to make the natural resources of the park the first priority, because if those resources disappear, there will be no reason to recreate there. This request was echoed by Phil Pryde of SDSU.
A number of park users, those with an Earthly bent, were willing to give up the privilege of open camping, if it was necessary for the well-being of the ecosystem. Some said the plan should have as a goal limiting the impact of people on the environment of the desert, so we could, in Phil's words, "hand down the resources unimpaired to future generations."
Terry Weiner used her own code for Coyote Canyon: "OHV activity should not be allowed near any of the riparian areas of the park," she said. These streamside habitats harbor and sustain many of the Park's endangered species, and should be protected.
This went on for an hour and a half, while the staff wrote much of it down and asked questions, and Clay was visibly relieved that we were all polite. With ten minutes left, he halted the proceedings and asked us to shout out, in one word, "What is your favorite thing about Anza-Borrego Desert State Park?"
One guy with a red shirt on (like ten of his friends) started with "solitude!" The voices then got into gear, with "freedom," "silence," and "access" coming from the most inexplicable places. "Cactus," called one. "Diversity" was someone's favorite. I couldn't think of anything for awhile. "Rocks!" I waited. Some tried to sneak in two words, which Clay caught. Then they got wise: "Free," said one, then "access" from across the room. "Family," then "values!" - and I had my word.
"God," I said.
The Marriott Hotel in Mission Valley is served semi-adequately by the numbers 6 and 13 SD Transit buses, which drop you off right across the street from the entrance. The hotel has no bicycle racks. None.
For the past five years, Anza-Borrego staff have conducted a resources inventory to identify the park's aesthetic, botanical, geological, paleontological, archaeological, historical and wildlife "resources." Now they'll use that information to write a general plan that will guide the park in preserving those resources for future generations, while also allowing for public access. The general plan won't address specifics, but will provide an overall approach to the many issues facing the park. In the future, specific management plans will be written using the general plan as a guide.
Officially, the park service has yet to reveal exactly what policies it would like to put in place, though it obviously has some ideas. Word on the grapevine is that the general plan will address road closures (again, not specific closures but a general policy that will guide future decisions), open camping vs. designated campgrounds, and acquisition of private inholdings. Park funding won't be addressed by the general plan, but the severe shortage of staff, especially rangers to patrol the park's 600,000 acres, is a serious issue.
Before writing the plan, park managers want to hear from the public on how they think the park should be managed, what issues are important, which resources need the most protection, and what experiences they would like to have in the park. These "scoping" comments will be taken into consideration in shaping the general plan, along with legislative requirements governing the state park system and state wilderness. (For instance, any comments calling for hunting or target shooting would be discounted because those activities are banned by the rules covering all state parks.)
At the June 20 public meeting in San Diego, one good, innovative idea was presented: to enlist volunteers to form citizen patrols of four-wheel-drivers, equestrians, mountain bikers and hikers to augment the sparse ranger staff.
Beyond that, few new issues were raised, just the familiar debate between access and preservation. The crowd of about 200 seemed evenly split between a well-organized cadre of off-road vehicle associations and a more amorphous crowd of people concerned with preserving the park's wildlife and other features. While many in the off-road vehicle contingent called themselves conservationists, their main concern as a group seemed to be with reopening or bypassing the Middle Willows area of Coyote Canyon to vehicle traffic. (This wetland was closed to vehicles four years ago to protect the endangered bighorn sheep and least Bell's vireo. Previously, the jeep route had traveled directly in the perennial stream, a practice even the Army Corps of Engineers frowns upon!)
Another speaker called for lifting the park's ban on "green-sticker" vehicles (non-street-legal dirt bikes, quad cycles and dune buggies). Another speaker even hinted at a vast conspiracy to use the Peninsular bighorn recovery plan to "clamp down" on four-wheel driving, horseback riding and hiking. In reality, park officials tell me they foresee little change in the park as a result of this plan, because the park already does a lot for the bighorn. The plan itself lists several hiking trails in the northern Santa Rosa Mountains that may impact bighorn lambing or watering sites, but none in Anza-Borrego.
Still, there are some problem jeep routes in Anza-Borrego that may need to be closed for a variety of reasons. Last year, a piece of rock art in Piedras Grandes, located next to a dead-end jeep route, was destroyed by a campfire. If that particular jeep route had been closed, this act of careless or malicious vandalism would likely not have occurred. Maintaining spur routes such as this one, leading to sensitive artifacts or habitats, is clearly not consistent with the park's legislated mandate of preserving resources for future generations.
Your comments are needed on Anza-Borrego Desert State Park's first general plan, which will guide the management of the park for decades to come. The plan will be drafted over the coming year, drawing on "scoping" comments provided by the general public. At two recent public meetings, members of several off-road vehicle associations were out in force, so the Department of Parks and Recreation needs to hear from conservationists soon.
Comments may be sent to: Jeanice Davis Southern Service Center 8885 Rio San Diego Dr., #270 San Diego, CA 92108 email: anzagpparks.ca.gov
Please send comments by July 31st
The parks department specifically does not want copied e-mail letters, so please integrate one or more of the following points in your own words.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park should:
Beyond these points, let the park know what you like about Anza-Borrego as it is managed now, why you go there, your own ideas for ways to improve management, etc.
If you have further questions, please email Larry Hogue at Lhogue8182@aol .com. For more information, please see www.anzaborrego.statepark.org/generalplan.html.