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Can off-roading and nature coexist?

by on October 15, 2012

Off-roaders have cut deep scars in the hillsides at Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area. Photo by Christine Kelly.
Off-roaders have cut deep scars in the hillsides at Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area. Photo by Christine Kelly.

In the hills west of Livermore, off-roaders are hoping to expand their range into an area that land preservationists say is sensitive natural habitat.

State Parks officials have signaled a move towards opening a portion of a nearly 3,500-acre site next to Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area to off-highway vehicles. The effort, more than a decade in the making, has sparked an intense debate between off-roaders and environmentalists about how public lands like the Tesla property should be managed.

Both sides have packed meetings at the East Bay Regional Parks District this month after it listed Tesla as a “potential regional preserve,” even though it’s the State Parks Department that will decide what to do with the land. State Parks is in the process of drafting an environmental impact report and general plan for Carnegie SVRA, which will also determine future use of the Tesla property.

“You can have resource protection and OHV recreation,” said Don Amador, the western representative of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, which represents off-roaders. “They are not mutually exclusive and they can coexist on state and federal lands.”

But Celeste Garamendi of Friends of Tesla Park, a group seeking to restrict the land for passive recreation, said the nature and history of the land is too precious to allow in off-roaders.

A recreational rider speeds down a hillside riding trail at Carnegie SVRA. Photo by Christine Kelly.

“When you’re hiking, when you’re wanting to enjoy nature, you do not want to have the impact of motorcycles and ATVs and four-by-fours impinging on the environment,” she said. “The concept of mixed use is false.”

The state purchased the Tesla property in the late 1990s with the intention of eventually turn it into an extension of Carnegie SVRA. But repeated attempts to do so have failed, in part because of the opposition.

Tesla sits at the intersection of several biotic zones, notably the coastal hills of the East Bay and the more arid Central Valley, making it particularly rich in biodiversity and a target of conservation efforts. Opponents to the expansion say there are 50 listed species on the site, including rare ones that need protection such as the California red-legged frog, the California tiger salamander, and tule elk.

Tesla is also an historic site, a former coal and clay mine that fueled a company town of 1,200 in an area called Corral Hollow in the 19th Century. Going back even further it was a Native American ceremonial site with prehistoric rock carvings still in place.

For these reasons, opponents of the expansion say the land should be kept from becoming anything like Carnegie SVRA, which faces problems with erosion, noise disturbance, and water quality impacts after more than 50 years of off-roading.

“Carnegie looks like Armageddon,” said Garamendi, who lives nearby. “There are wide swaths of vegetation that has been denuded from the landscape, gullies scarring the hillsides, there’s dust. You don’t see wildlife when you’re there. It looks like a wasteland. Tesla is special. We can’t allow any damage to occur.”

Photo by Christine Kelly.

Off-roaders, however, say the state has an obligation to use the land, in part, for off-roading because it was purchased with money from the Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund, a pot of money primarily fed by a portion of the state gas tax. Amador said his group favors setting aside some of the Tesla site, but off-roading must be allowed there.

“It’s not the Garden of Eden,” Amador said. “It’s been used by people for hundreds of thousands of years and we expect it will continue to be used by thousands of people.”

The East Bay Regional Park District is taking the position that off-roading be allowed, as long as the most important areas of Tesla remain off-limits. In a statement to the State Parks Department, the district calls for “passive, non-motorized use” be given equal weight in the new plans. Brian Holt, a senior planner for the East Bay parks district, said the district is interested in partnering with the state to manage the land set aside for passive use.

Although the district has raised the hackles of off-roaders by placing Tesla on its master plan as a “potential regional preserve,” Holt says there’s no aim to banish off-roaders from the area.

“It has been reported that the district wishes to stop OHV on the Carnegie site,” Holt said. “We have not been working towards that.”

Opponents to the Carnegie SVRA expansion into Tesla say they don’t want off-roaders leaving their mark. Photo by Christine Kelly.

Dan Canfield, a spokesman for the OHV division of state parks, said Tesla will likely be zoned for different uses based on what’s suitable, as is done in other parks, rather than an overarching plan. The public will then give input on each zone.

“It’s an empty shell at this point,” he said. “We’ve gotten thousands of comments from people with a lot of different points of views and we accept them all.”

Go here for more information on the Carnegie SVRA general plan revision and to comment on the Tesla expansion. State officials are scheduled to release a draft environmental impact statement by the spring and finalize one by next winter.

Alison Hawkes is the online editor for Bay Nature. Christine Kelly is a Bay Nature editorial intern.

See more articles in: Habitats: Land, Recreation, Stewardship

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Diana Tweedy on October 17th, 2012 at 9:31 am

At the East Bay Regional Park District’s last meeting they did not assure us that they were not going to take over our park and run it for non-OHV recreation. In fact they implied the opposite.

They cited their “scientific survey” (of only 400 people) to claim that OHV is not popular in the East Bay. They admitted that Tesla would remain on their map when everything is said and done. And they confessed that they are commenting on the EIR and the Carnegie General Plan. Isn’t that a conflict of interest?

Tesla was purchased from OHV trust fund money supported by fees and taxes paid by the off road community and appropriated by the legislature for OHV recreation. And now our state OHV park is being taken over by a regional park. Can’t you smell the corruption?

Deals have been made and nobody from State Parks and Recreation or the OHV Division is standing up to this regional park and saying hands off. This is after the disclosure of illegal benefits given to state park employees and the theft and hiding away in secret accounts of $54 million ($33.5 million green sticker money according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle).

Nobody is sticking up for us even after the Commission in an unanimous decision wrote a letter to the Division of OHV asking them to send a letter to EBRPD telling them to cease and desist. Nobody has said a word.

Friends of Tesla try to make the case that an abundance of wildlife in Tesla (based on whose observations…) is because it is scared off by bikes and four wheelers in Carnegie, ignoring the more likely explanation that our neighbor’s (Connolly’s) hunting business is causing them to seek sanctuary in Tesla.

As we ride around Carnegie we see plenty of wildlife. It isn’t frightened away by our presence. In fact a short time after the last hill climb competition we saw a deer nosing around on the hill where bikes had been competing.

Celeste is married to our neighbor Mark Connolly who filed suit to shut down Carnegie based on the same lies and distortions used by Friends of Tesla. The suit was dismissed based on a settlement that included the terms of a Storm Management Plan accepted by the central valley water board.

East Bay Regional Parks District wants to add our approximately 3000 acres to the 112,000 acres while OHV riders have to travel over fifty miles from the Bay Area to ride their off highway vehicles at Carnegie (the closest OHV park) which has less than 1,000 acres for riding. Because of overcrowding the Alameda/Tesla property was purchased to expand Carnegie.

Now East Bay Regional Park District wants to run it for passive users. The idea that an OHV park purchased with OHV trust fund money can be duel use is ridiculous. Once the passive users get in they will demand that OHV users be kicked out. They have already made that sentiment perfectly clear even though Tesla has not been opened. If they get to use our park we will use theirs.

The unique species that are said to reside on our property are found throughout the area and the historical artifacts consist of a town that is no longer there and abandoned coal mines. There is nothing unique about our property. It is part of the central valley with temperatures about twenty degrees higher than coastal temperatures and very little rain fall. It is not the Eden that our adversaries want you to think it is and Carnegie is not the wasteland that they try to make it out to be. The waste land is across the street from Carnegie at Site 300, a Superfund site.

The OHV Division has been restoring hills damaged in the past and protecting historical artifacts, soil composition standards, and wildlife habitat as required by law. Please do not believe the distortions propounded by Friends of Tesla without coming to Carnegie and seeing it for yourself.

Bob Jump on October 17th, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I agree 100% with what Diana Tweedy has stated, the Tesla property was purchased exclusively with OHV funds & is to be used ONLY for OHV use period, no ifs, ands or buts, regardless of what the delusional greens version of what reality is, any thing other than this is a vioation of the Brown Act

Paul on October 22nd, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I love to hike through many of East Bay Regional Park Districts parks, and have for decades. I also very much enjoy Off-Highway-Vehicle (OHV) riding in the State’s Vehicle Recreation Areas (SVRA), and in our National Forests and BLM routes federally designated for this recreation.

Human activity has affected all lands in our state, whether it be freeways, factories, housing or farmland and aquaducts . Even in the EBRPD parks, there is substantial cattle grazing dirt trails, dirt roads for park personnel, local ranchers, fire supression, mountaintop antenna farms, dirt roads to reservoirs for EBMUD, SFWD, etc. What about these? Should all these other roads and land uses be disallowed too? Why should a few deny the freedom of many who desire vehicle-based recreation?
My points are:
1) There is more than ample land (112,000 acres) in the Bay Area, in EBRPD parks, and State Parks and Federal recreation areas to hike and enjoy nature witthout vehicles.
2) Compared to all the other (non-public) dirt roads in the Bay Area, and Calif in general, that Carnegie SVRA and all OHV areas in our state, are but a tiny, tiny fraction of a percent of all the parks, roads & land uses listed above.
3) I observed virtually the same amount of wildlife overall, whether hiking in pristine areas or off-highway driving. (mammals, birds, flowers, insects). In fact larger mammals make good use of native-surface roads, to forage place to place.

Justus Wunderle on October 22nd, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Paul and Diana’s comments are right on in my opinion. I hike and ride off road, too. It irks me that I have to travel great distances and burn lots of fuel to get to “interesting” riding places today. If Carnegie were imporved by providing more variety it would cause me to go there more often and my contribution to human induced climate change would be reduced (ie I would burn less gas).
This land grab is short term “green” but it ignores long term green objectives. It is best to provide opportunities for people to recreate locally so that they don’t drive so much.
The Celeste issue is typical of how people use environmental law to further their own interests, in this case its personal wealth. They undermine respect for the law and at the same time do harm to many people to further their own personal interests.
In addition the pictures shown in this article are typical of what people do in biased reporting regarding OHV. The picture of the tire tread marks would look equally bad if it were a well used hiking trail in Tilden after a rain. The hillside scars are another example. These are not representative of the whole park. There are no photos of the east end of the park where a trail based system has been implemented. The elepant in the room is that new parking lots for shopping or ubiquitous cattle grazing may be much worse than these straight hill climbs in their environmental impact.

Paul on October 25th, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Indeed, the photo used by baynature is the typical of the type used by all anti-OHV recreation organizations, whether its CBD, PEER, or the sierra anti-access orgs. They always pick the shot with the most bare dirt, forgetting non-OHV roads and foot trials are dirt also, and its just a tiny portion of the park acreage. If disturbed soil is their issue, then what about restricting farming, ranching, quarries, industrial , etc. etc? We’ve all seen some pretty well worn hiking trails too in EBRPD.

Alison Hawkes on October 25th, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Hi folks commenting on the photo. I’d love to see some other photos from Carnegie that show well-used areas. Of course, it’s not accurate to discuss the impacts of off-roading and then show parts of Carnegie where off-roaders aren’t really going. And for the record, we’ve covered all sorts of impacts on wildlife in our parks, including how bird-watchers with flash cameras can be a detriment to their subjects. So, OHV use is hardly the first time we’ve covered recreational impact to open spaces. I’m not necessarily siding with Celeste, but I wouldn’t say her opinion is worth less because she lives next to Tesla. She’s actually in a position to see quite clearly what’s going on since the land is part of her everyday life.

David Tam on November 5th, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Very nice job!!

Ray D on November 30th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Ms. Hawkes said” I’m not necessarily siding with Celeste, but I wouldn’t say her opinion is worth less because she lives next to Tesla. She’s actually in a position to see quite clearly what’s going on since the land is part of her everyday life.”

Living next to Tesla makes Celeste Garamendi totally biased. Her opinion is completely non-objective. She has such a personal stake in the issue.
The fact of the matter is that the Tesla expansion area was legally purchased with Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund monies, so…Off-Highway Vehicles should be allowed to use it. Otherwise it’s stealing.

Mary K on June 28th, 2015 at 5:30 pm

Comments are extended through end of business Monday, June 29, 2015.

It is impossible to protect the diverse habitats and many many species including the California Red-legged Frog (Rana draytonii); California Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma californiense), Foothill Yellow-legged frogs (Rana boylii) — and many other plants and animals that comprise a unique ecosystem.

Submit your comment asking the California State Parks to prohibit any new off-road vehicle use in Tesla Park, as it would illegally endanger federally protected amphibian species.

Learn More: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/6000/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=20782

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