Years of trespassing, illegal dumping, erosion and damage to archaeological sites have pushed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to shut down areas in the Steep Hollow and Greenhorn Creek areas " despite the area's popularity for off-road riding.
The land closure is one of many across nine Central California counties recently approved as part of the long-overdue Sierra Resource Management Plan. The plan directs the future management of publicly owned lands for environmental, historical, recreation, water and agricultural purposes and wildfire safety.
Members of some local four-wheel drive clubs are outraged by the recent closure of public recreation lands, saying it will put more pressure on trails that remain open and could jeopardize backcountry use for hikers, hunters, anglers and kayakers.
"Closing BLM land is closing public land. If people don't have a place to recreate, they're not going to go away," said Kyra, a local motorcyclist who goes by her first name only.
She said closing public lands could make them more dangerous, encouraging illegal activity such as growing marijuana and outdoor meth labs.
Next week, Friends of Greenhorn " a group of about 80 members " will file an appeal to the BLM's plan, said Jacquelyne Theisen, one of the group's organizers. Friends of Greenhorn formed last fall in response to the proposed land closure. Since then, members have organized clean-up days and route mapping trips to save the four-wheel drive playground from becoming a "de facto wilderness," she said.
"This is a pretty hot-button issue with a lot of OHV users. I really feel for the people. We're not making any more public land," said Jeff Horn, recreation planner for BLM's Folsom field office.
In recent years, the agency's funding has dwindled along with staff, making management of remote territories like those around Greenhorn difficult.
"We have hundreds of parcels surrounded by private lands," said Tim Carroll, a geologist for the field office.
With four rangers to patrol the district's 230,000 acres of public land and a defunct land exchange program, the agency is left with its hands tied in caring for what is considered leftovers from the Homestead Act, Carroll added.
A complicated pattern of county roads, private properties, mining claims, and lands managed by BLM and the Tahoe National Forest makes the remote area around Greenhorn a headache to patrol. Forest officials are expected to close down OHV use in the Greenhorn area soon.
Land managed by BLM is not contiguous; often, the only access route is across private land, Horn said. Steep hillsides are showing signs of erosion from off-road use, and agency officials worry about degradation at Gold Rush town sites, Horn said.
Plagued by numerous complaints of vandals, loud parties, illegal dumping, shooting and trespassing, the region is considered a nuisance by local law enforcement as well. A 19-year-old man died in a four-wheel drive accident on a steep cliff at Greenhorn Creek in March 2007.
Miles of challenging terrain sculpted by hydraulic mining 150 years ago attract many with four-wheel drive vehicles, quads and motorcycles to the Greenhorn area.
Greenhorn's lower elevation also makes it a favorite place to ride during the winter months when higher routes remain covered with snow. In January, as many as 1,200 people and 600 vehicles turned out for a gathering there.
"Greenhorn is a little of everything. Greenhorn is a place that serves a lot of people and the community," Kyra said.
Just how the federal land agency will enforce the closure remains to be seen when rangers are few and far between. The agency wants to use education first as a tool for enforcement through pamphlets and signs, Horn said. Citations will be issued as a last resort, he said.
In the future, the agency sees OHV parks, such as Prairie City State Vehicular Recreation Area in Rancho Cordova, as a realistic solution that can satisfy a growing sport while protecting the environment and private property rights.
"For us, that's something that's manageable," Horn said.
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4231.