Reintroduced bill pushing to reopen Clear Creek

The mountains lead into the Clear Creek area where many people used to use off-road vehicles before the property was closed in 2008. File photo.

Congressman Sam Farr and others are reintroducing a bill attempting to reopen the federally owned Clear Creek Management Area for off-road use.
The bill would reopen the 75,000-acre Clear Creek Management Area, closed since 2008 after an Environmental Protection Agency Study deemed unsafe the levels of naturally occurring asbestos, while it would also establish 21,000 acres as additional, protected wilderness, according to a statement from Farr’s office.
Farr in prior sessions has introduced similar, unsuccessful legislation to reopen Clear Creek. Off-road enthusiasts and others in favor of reopening Clear Creek, including county supervisors, have argued the evidence is insufficient that a serious health risk exists.
The federal government six years ago closed Clear Creek due to studies concluding there were dangerous levels of asbestos exposure on its trails. It stirred an uproar from the off-road community and county government leaders hoping to gain back the park’s economic benefits, namely the 35,000 annual visitors before Clear Creek’s closure.
In February 2014, the BLM announced a decision to permanently close off most of the area to the public.
Below is Farr’s announcement released Thursday:
California Reps. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, David G. Valadao, R-Hanford, and Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, today introduced H.R. 1838, the Clear Creek National Recreation Area and Conservation Act, to direct the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to reopen the 75,000 acre Clear Creek Management Area in San Benito and Fresno counties for recreational use, including access for off-road vehicles. Additionally, the legislation would protect approximately 21,000 acres of BLM land adjacent to Clear Creek as the Joaquin Rocks Wilderness.
“Public lands should be open for the public to enjoy,” said Rep. Farr. “Environmentalist and off-road vehicle riders agree there is real value in opening Clear Creek and preserving Joaquin Rocks. This bill would boost our local economy by creating a chance for all Californians to come here and enjoy the outdoors in their own way.”
Once considered a premier off-road vehicle recreation site, Clear Creek was temporarily closed in 2008 to the public after an Environmental Protection Agency analysis about the risk created by naturally occurring asbestos.
“This legislation achieves two important goals,” said Valado. “Not only does the bill reopen Clear Creek for recreational use, but the legislation also creates new wilderness land that will be preserved for future generations of Californians. I look forward to moving this bipartisan bill forward with my colleagues in the House.”
The bill instructs the BLM to develop a rigorous plan to minimize the risk from asbestos exposure and educate visitors about the naturally occurring asbestos. The BLM would also be required to develop ways to reduce the impact of off-road vehicles to protect the area’s habitat.
“This legislation is one of the rare opportunities where all stakeholders will benefit from land designation legislation.” said Steve Koretoff, member of the Blue Ribbon Coalition and the American Motorcyclists Association. “It will allow responsible motorized recreation while at the same time protecting sensitive lands and habitat. Californians look forward to being able to recreate in this unique area once again.”
H.R. 1838 also designates 21,000 acres of rugged sandstone outcroppings as the Joaquin Rocks Wilderness.  Rising up over 4,000 feet from the valley floor, the striking Joaquin Rocks are the centerpiece of this remote area. Three scenic monoliths are the eroded remnants of an ancient vaqueros sandstone formation.
“Joaquin Rocks is a spectacular wilderness oasis on the eastern slopes of California’s Diablo range,” said Gordon Johnson of the California Wilderness Project. “It boasts spectacular history, geology and biological diversity that is unique to Central California. Wilderness protection for Joaquin Rocks is long overdue.”
Due to the cool climate created by the rocks elevation, the formation is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna and several species of wildlife. In addition to falcons, hawks and owls, the cliffs provide a potential nesting habitat for the California condor which was reintroduced in the nearby Gavilan Range
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. The rivers are not in the zone for off-road vehicle use.

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