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Monday, February 28, 2005
Off-road alliance favors designated riding areas
Joshua Tree conference focuses on illegal ORV use in High Desert

JOSHUA TREE — Almost 200 people, including Victor Valley residents and recreational riders, attended a two-day conference over the weekend to discuss the problem of illegal off-road vehicle use.

The conference, sponsored by the Alliance for Responsible Recreation, exemplifies problems High Desert residents are being confronted with more frequently as off-road vehicle use increases. Invasions of private property, destruction of desert habitat, noise and dust pollution were all discussed.

In the coming months legislation at the county and state levels could be introduced to confine off-road vehicles to designated areas, conferees learned.

Already the city of Hesperia has an ordinance that drastically curtails off-road vehicle use within city limits, and the town of Apple Valley is moving forward with an ordinance, which could take shape in the next few months.

A panel composed of representatives from San Bernardino and Riverside counties, their respective sheriff's departments and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management addressed resident concerns and discussed the issues, said Byron Kahr, the conference coordinator.

"It was the concern that there is riding going on all over the place that is not on public land," he said. "This conference accomplished an important first step, which is bringing people together in the rural communities."

During the conference Kahr said he learned of state legislation being introduced by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-San Jose, that would address some of the off-road problems. If passed the bill would make the display tags that off-road vehicle riders purchase from the state larger so they are more visible, and it would put some teeth into current state law in an effort to make enforcement easier, he said.

Many of the attendees complained of the nuisance created by illegal riding in the desert, yet recognized there are many who enjoy the sport legally.

"There are responsible people out there who also love the desert and try very hard not to be destructive," said Jenny Wilder, one of more than 200 members of the Friends of Juniper Flats, a Victor Valley-based organization formed specifically to deal with the off-roading problem. "We would hate to close the desert down because there are outlaw riders out there that either don't know the rules or don't care."

The attendees made it clear they were there to preserve their quality of life, which they said was being threatened by the so called "outlaw" riders.

"We heard personal stories about this exact same thing happening everywhere. It is not a local problem at all — it is a statewide problem," Wilder said. "We are hoping to get better legislation and enforcement by working with the Sheriff's Department and the county Board of Supervisors."

One of the main problems noted was that riders are often confused about where they can ride legally.

"There needs to be a lot of education and outreach to the public so they know where they can ride," Wilder said. "Motorcycle and quad riders trespass on private property to ride their vehicles. We have found it very difficult to find where the private lands begin and the public lands end."

Areas near the Victor Valley that are designated as open to off-road vehicle use include El Mirage Dry Lake and the Stoddard Valley and Johnson Valley off-highway vehicle areas.

Kahr said some of the suggestions were to introduce education programs in the schools or have dealerships that sell off-road vehicles inform customers about the rules.

But the conference also had its share of riders who objected to increased enforcement, revealing a bitter divide between many vehicle riders and desert residents who want the vehicles controlled, Kahr said.

"One of the reasons this has become so adversarial is that the riders have concerns that we want to shut down the desert," he said. "What we want is for everyone to know where you can ride and everywhere else, that is a mix of public and private land, is just not appropriate to ride."

LeRoy Standish may be reached at 951-6277 or [email protected].
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