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By: Robert Janis

California State Program Provides Help to Off-Highway Recreationists

For off-highway enthusiasts, the state in which you reside need not be the enemy. In fact, many states are not. Instead, they are providing assistance to OHV recreationists who are seeking land on which to ride.

One such state is California. The California State Government includes a program that assists OHVers-- the California Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Program (OHMVR).

Created in 1971, the OHMVR Division has the responsibility to acquire, develop, and operate state- owned vehicular recreation areas, also know as SVRAs, and to provide for a statewide system of managed OHV recreational opportunities through funding to other public agencies. Moreover, the OHMVR Division assures that quality recreational opportunities remain available for future generations by providing education, conservation, and enforcement efforts that balance OHV recreation impact with programs that conserve and protect cultural and natural resources.

OHMVR Created by Law

According to Daphne Greene, deputy director of the OHMVR Division, the agency was created because of the unmanaged use of OHVs. “Unmanaged OHV use was causing significant, unmitigated damage to California’s natural resources and bringing OHV enthusiasts into conflict with rural and urban landowners and residents,” said Greene. So the California State Legislature passed a law establishing the OHMVR Division as well as a means for managing OHV use. “The Chappie-Z’berg Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Law of 1971 was a blueprint for managed OHV recreation in designated areas and requires maintenance and oversight to ensure continued long-term use consistent with progressive environmental practices. Today, California’s OHV Program is the largest program of its kind,” added Greene.

The law mandated that existing off-highway facilities be expanded and that new facilities, including parks, trails, and access areas, be provided.

Today there are eight State Vehicular Recreation Areas (SVRA)--Carnegie SVRA, Clay Pit SVRA, Heber Dunes SVRA, Hollister Hills SVRA, Hungry Valley SVRA, Oceano Dunes SVRA, Ocotillo Wells SVRA, and Prairie City SVRA.

In addition, pointed out Greene, the program issues grants to cities, counties, federal agencies, Native American tribes, non-profit groups, and educational institutions for the acquisition, development, operation and maintenance, law enforcement, safety and education and restoration of land for use by OHVs.

“The grants program is divided into four distinct areas—50% for Operations and Maintenance, 25% for Restoration, 20% for law enforcement, and 5% for Safety and Education,” said Greene. Since 1982, the OHMVR Program has given approximately $330 million in grants.

The agency selects land for conversion into SVRAs that are suitable to support and sustain high quality OHV recreation. Taken into consideration are the land’s terrain; topography; sensitive resources; endangered species; soil type; vegetation; surrounding land use; accessibility to major highways; proximity to utility infrastructure such as water or well, electrical facilities, sewer or leach and telecommunications facilities. Other issues that influence the choice of land include air quality, purchase cost, the potential level of visitation, and the need to establish a facility within a specific region.

Funds for acquiring the land are in the state budget and approved by the legislature for withdrawal from the OHV Trust Fund. Once purchased, the land is developed by the state’s Department of Parks and Recreation using money from the OHV Trust Fund. The state develops each site acquired as an SVRA through competitive contracts with private contractors . . . . “In some instances, SVRA staff will utilize labor and/or materials provided by volunteer organizations. These smaller projects are considered Minor Capital Outlay projects and, in most cases, will require approval prior to construction depending on the magnitude of the project,” said Greene. Program funding comes primarily from fuel taxes, off-highway vehicle registration fees, and fees collected at State Vehicular Recreation Areas.

Programs Operated by OHMVR

The OHMVR also provides educational and conservation programs in conjunction with the purchase, development, and maintenance of SVRAs.

The education program features a variety of brochures that include information on proper riding attire; mapping of legal and/or primary trails and roads; mapping of closed or restricted areas; emergency contacts; hazards; race tracks and special use areas; safety tips; and park rules, laws and regulations.

In addition, the agency publishes and distributes other materials that it designs or obtains other materials that are created by private sources and manufacturers and distributes them. This includes “ATV Laws and Changes for Kids under 14;” “California Noise Regulations;” “Rules and Guidelines for Protecting the Snowy Plover;” “Western Snowy Plover--Sharing the Beach;” “Tips for Responsible Snowmobile Recreation;” and “Right Rider,” which offers tips for responsible OHV use.

In addition, staff members of the OHMVR Division attend trade shows with their outreach trailer. “These shows are a good way to interact with the public and to provide opportunities for education and outreach,” said Greene.

And, in cooperation with the ATV Safety Institute (ASI), OHMVR Division offers training on the use of an ATV for children under 18 who purchase a used ATV. Information on this training program can be found at www.atvsafety.org.

The division’s conservation program is involved with protecting the lands on which OHV recreation occurs. “This includes, but is not limited to, the development of inventories, wildlife habitat protection and monitoring programs for our SVRAs,” said Greene. “We design and construct riding opportunities such as trails, tracks, and more for the best recreational values while making sure to preserve, protect, and restore areas which may be negatively impacted by OHV recreation. One outstanding example of our success is at Oceano Dunes SVRA where an area of the park is fenced off from March to October to protect the threatened western snowy plover. The park hosts one of the most successful western snow plover nesting and breeding populations in California.”

The OHMVR looks upon conservation and protection of natural and cultural resources as a partnership between state agencies, which are responsible for the management of the land, and the OHV community, who recreates on the land. The OHMVR Division works closely with OHV clubs and cooperating associations like the California Off-Road Vehicle Association who report problems to SVRA staff when noted.

Enforcement of Laws on SVRAs

The California Park Rangers enforce all laws in the SVRAs, and they work closely with the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Forest Service, and the Sheriffs of the State of California on OHV matters. They also provide grants to these groups for law enforcement. The OHMVR Division also provides technical assistance and advice to the legislature in the drafting of new laws that would affect off-highway vehicle users.

The Future

The OHMVR Division is assuring that its work will continue into the future. It is in the process of drafting a strategic plan that will focus on the development of key goals, issues, objectives, and specific strategies. The OHMVR Commission, a politically appointed advisory commission, as well as outside consultants have been working on the Strategic Plan and they are involved with meeting with focus groups to identify the various issues and how to address them. “The goals of the plan include improving the quality and quantity of recreational opportunities to meet the changing and growing interests of all OHV enthusiasts; promoting responsible care and protection of California’s natural and cultural resources; adopting best management practices; promoting a vision of developing a safe and sustainable statewide program; and offering grants to county and federal agencies, non-profits and educational institutions,” said Greene. It is expected that the Strategic Plan will be completed by January 2009.

“At our SVRAs we are committed to maintaining and, wherever possible, to increasing our existing ATV riding opportunities,” continued Greene. “We have ATV trails and tracks on which the public can ride. With input from the public, we continuously try to improve upon the existing opportunities through better maintenance and design. Hollister Hills SVRA will soon see the opening of lands on which some new ATV opportunities will be provided.

“Unfortunately the USFS and BLM continue to see a reduction of funds at the national level. While the state grants program provides funding to these agencies, it is doubtful a lot of new ATV opportunities are going to occur. It is very important for the ATV community to be involved and to prioritize the areas on federal lands they want to see maintained. Non-profit organizations are eligible for funding through the OHVMR Division grant program. So, ATV organizations can now partner with the USFS and BLM to help maintain their opportunities. Additionally, the ATV community should look at ways to partner with the counties to provide new riding opportunities,” she concluded.

For more information about OHMVR check their website: www.parks.ca.gov.


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