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Bill to reopen California's Clear Creek area introduced

May 22, 2013

A bill to direct the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to reopen the 75,000-acre Clear Creek Management Area in California’s San Benito and Fresno counties for recreational use has been introduced in Congress.

Besides allowing access for off-highway vehicles, the measure, H.R. 1776, would designate about 21,000 acres of BLM land adjacent to Clear Creek as the Joaquin Rocks Wilderness.

California U.S. Reps. Sam Farr (D-Carmel), David G. Valadao (R-Hanford) and Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) introduced the bill, called the Clear Creek National Recreation Area and Conservation Act.

“This bill brings environmentalist and off-road vehicle enthusiasts together in the common goals of reopening Clear Creek for the public to enjoy and creating new wilderness land for future generations to enjoy,” Farr says. “This partnership between the two groups will allow us to achieve two victories to benefit to the local communities.”

Valadao says: “Californians have been enjoying the natural beauty of Clear Creek for decades. This legislation is a common-sense solution which not only reopens the land for off highway vehicle use but also directs additional land to be preserved for future generations. I am excited to introduce this bipartisan legislation with my colleague and look forward to reopening the Clear Creek Management Area for our constituents and the entire state to enjoy once again.” 

Once considered a premier off-road vehicle recreation site, Clear Creek was temporarily closed to the public in 2008 following an Environmental Protection Agency analysis because of health risks that may be posed by naturally occurring asbestos.

“Thousands of visitors would come from all over the state, traveling through San Benito County on their way to Clear Creek,” says San Benito County Supervisor Jerry Muenzer. “Our county has lost thousands of dollars since Clear Creek closed. This bill would bring much needed tourism dollars back to our small businesses, providing an immediate boost the local economy.”

The bill instructs the BLM to develop a rigorous plan to minimize the risk from asbestos exposure and to educate visitors to the recreation area about the natural asbestos. The BLM would also be required to reduce the impact of off-road vehicles to protect the area’s habitat.

“The roads and trails have been used for generations by varying types of recreationists and others, many since the late 1800’s,” says AMA member Steve Koretoff, who is also a member of Friends of the CCMA. “Allowing access ensures that all Californians have the opportunity to experience the rugged beauty of this historical area.”

The bill also designates five creek and river segments located within Monterey County and the Clear Creek National Recreational Area as Wild and Scenic Rivers. None of the rivers are within the designated zone for off-road vehicle use.

Meanwhile, the BLM Hollister Field Office released a Proposed Resource Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Clear Creek Management Area.

Under the proposed Resource Management Plan, off-highway vehicle use would not be authorized in the Serpentine Area of Critical Environmental Concern. However, limited motorized entry would be allowed within the ACEC to provide access to key areas of interest for non-motorized recreation. Vehicle touring in the ACEC would be limited to a 32-mile scenic route loop. Access into the ACEC would be authorized by permit only, with vehicle touring limited to less than five days per year and pedestrian activity limited to less than 12 days per year.

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