Surprise Canyon Needs Our Help
By: Kris Tholke
Support the re-opening of Surprise Canyon Road - Action Needed.
Surprise Canyon Road, a county road located in the Panamint Mountains of
Inyo County, California, has been the only route of wheeled access to
Panamint City for over 130 years. Panamint City is located high in the
Panamint mountains in a non-wilderness cherry-stem of Death Valley National
Park. Surprise Canyon Road was created by the Inyo County Board of
Supervisors, under California law, on July 6, 1874, to provide access to
Surprise Canyon Road was closed in May of 2001 as a result of a lawsuit
brought about by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, against the Bureau of
Land Management. The parties to the suit settled by signing a "Stipulation
Agreement" defining the terms of the closure. The agreement stated that the
BLM must erect a gate to block vehicular access to the road, and to complete
an "Environmental Impact Statement" (EIS) to outline further allowed use of
This closure order had an appeal period of 90 days. CORVA and the High
Desert Multiple Use Coalition appealed the decision in 2001 to the Interior
Board of Land Appeals (IBLA). This appeal was denied, and the only option
was to file suit in Federal District court. Unfortunately the funds
available for a suit of this nature were low, and there were other pending
issues heading towards the courts at the time in California. As a result,
the funds for Surprise Canyon were diverted to these other causes and the
ability to appeal the closure to Federal Court was lost.
A second chance...
In 2003, two groups of individuals interested in re-opening Surprise Canyon
Road purchased two Patented millsite claims in the hopes of re-establishing
vehicular access to Panamint City via Surprise Canyon Road. In the closure
order there was an exemption to owners of private property, allowing them to
access their property as had been done in the past. After many requests were
submitted by property owners, the BLM did not provide keys to the gate and
further required property owners to complete applications for a
right-of-way. To date, the applications have gone un-answered as the
agencies feel many of the issues they have surrounding the applications will
be answered by the findings of the "EIS".
It has been over four years since the start of the EIS process, and a draft
of the document is still being prepared. These four years have been an
unnecessary delay, and a disservice to the recreating public.
With the support of many off-highway organizations, clubs, and individuals,
thru the Friends of Panamint Valley, the property owners have retained an
excellent law firm and have been preparing a lawsuit outlining the access
issues of the owners, as well as addressing the issue of Surprise Canyon
Road being an R.S. 2477 right-of-way established over 130 years ago by Inyo
County. The evidence to support an R.S. 2477 claim is substantial and
impossible to refute.
According to the recent 10th Circuit decision in Southern Utah Wilderness
Alliance vs. BLM, R.S. 2477 determinations can only be made in the courts. A
violation of the current closure would be punishable by fine and/or
imprisonment. This is why it is necessary to support the efforts of the
property owners and support Inyo County joining the pending lawsuit to
re-open Surprise Canyon Road.
Help is now needed...
In order to pursue the R.S. 2477 claims, and open the road to the public, it
is preferable to have the support of Inyo County. The decision to join a
lawsuit is at the discretion of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors. Click
Here <http://www.fopv.org/action.html> to help.
Thank you for your support,
Friends of Panamint Valley