The U.S. Marine Corps’ latest alternative is a bit friendlier to off-roaders, but most of the Johnson Valley OHV area would still be off-limits to the public under the new plan.
Alternative 6 is the Marines’ latest proposal to take over the country’s largest off-highway vehicle area and use it for training exercises.
The plan, released late last month, is a response to thousands of comments from concerned off-roading enthusiasts who want the Marines to expand eastward from their Twentynine Palms base rather than going west into Johnson Valley.
But Alternative 6 does not go east. It still proposes that a vast amount of Johnson Valley OHV will be completely in the hands of the military. The main difference is that there will be some public access to the southern part of the area. This includes The Hammers — rocky, treacherous trails where enthusiasts put their 4×4 vehicles to the test. This section would be closed for Marine Corps training maneuvers twice annually, for about a month each time, leaving the area open to the public 10 months out of the year.
However, a sizable chunk of Johnson Valley would be permanently closed to civilians. That area includes tracks used for annual races as well as historic mining sites.
Local off-roading enthusiast Roger Peterson said that the plan was a better than any of the previous ones, but he was disappointed that so much of Johnson Valley will still be permanently taken over. He added that motorcyclists might be the ones most negatively affected by the new plan, because they typically don’t use The Hammers and would normally ride in the area that the Marines plan to take over permanently.
Off-roaders aren’t the only ones opposed to the Marines’ proposed expansion; Lucerne Valley businesses would also be affected. People from all over the country go off-roading in Johnson Valley. Many of them come from Interstate 15, and that means they have to go through Lucerne Valley to get there. If The Hammers are closed two months out of the year and other popular areas are closed permanently, those off-roaders will go somewhere else and take their business with them.
Ernie Gommel and daughter Linda Gommel of Lucerne Valley Market and Hardware said it would be very tough to even stay in business without the patronage of off-roaders. They said business goes up by as much as 50 percent when there are off-roading events at Johnson Valley.
“It would have a great impact on our business,” Ernie Gommel said. “We know it has a great positive impact when the off-roaders are here. … The word that (off-roaders) pass to each other is that Lucerne Valley Market and Hardware has everything.”
Local residents are concerned about notifying visitors as to when The Hammers will be used for maneuvers. Captain Brian Block of the Marine Corps said there would be “aggressive outreach” to let people know when the training will take place.
As for how off-roaders would be kept our of the area during training, Block did not know the specifics. He referred those questions to the Twentynine Palms public relations office, which had not returned a call as of press time.
Block said the Marines will consider the six alternatives as well the “no action” alternative before revising their plans. There would then be a public comment period. The final plan would be submitted to congress by fall of 2011 under the current schedule.
Visit the Partnership for Johnson Valley Web site for a detailed map of Alternative 6.
Filed under: Civil Liberties, Military Industrial Complex Tagged: | Brian Block, Ernie Gommel, Interstate 15, Johnson Valley, Johnson Valley OHV Area, Linda Gommel, Lucerne Valley, Lucerne Valley Market and Hardware, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Partnership for Johnson Valley, Roger Peterson, Twentynine Palms, USMC