Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Forest Service Plan Alerts Local Activists

Los Padres proposal includes leasing Rose Valley to concessionaire

By Nao Braverman
Several local outdoor enthusiasts fear the proposed changes to nearby national recreation sites could mean more than just fewer Forest Service maintained campgrounds in the Los Padres National Forest.
In a recently completed recreational facility analysis, the Los Padres National Forest proposes to close two campgrounds in the Mount Piños Ranger District, expand and improve the campground at Rose Valley lakes and consider leasing the Rose Valley Campground to a concessionaire.
“Our goal is to do a better job of meeting forest visitor needs and make our facilities more financially and environmentally sustainable,” said forest supervisor Ken Heffner.
Out of the 108 developed recreational sites in the Los Padres National Forest, changes are proposed to 62 sites.
Locally that means leasing the popular Rose Valley, Lion campgrounds, Piedra Blanca and Johnston Ridge trailheads to concessionaires. The forest also proposes to remove the degraded facilities at Hard Luck Campground and Ozena Campground in the Mount Piños Ranger District, and return those sites to their natural condition.
The Mt. Pinos Ranger District campgrounds are being proposed for closure because they are rarely used and the facilities have not properly been maintained, according to Ken Kunert, the forest landscape architect for Los Padres.
Some recreational areas including Pine Mountain are recommended for longer closures during the winter season when they are rarely used, because the roads are unsafe, said Kunert. The exact span of closure has not been determined yet.
Kunert said that the forest was looking to lease campgrounds in Rose Valley to concessionaires because there needs to be more patrollers in those areas as they are frequently used. Leasing them to a concessionaire would make it possible to better maintain those facilities in an economically sustainable matter, he said.
Though the sites would be operated by an independent agency, they would still be owned by the forest, he confirmed. He did not expect that leasing to concessionaires would affect the price of recreational use.
Alasdair Coyne, conservation director for Keep the Sespe Wild, said he was concerned about the trend of closing down the more rustic campsites while improving those with the greater capacity for profit making.
“We are looking at one more step in the direction of the commercialization of our public lands,” he said.
Recreational facility analysis for national forests around the country is proposing the closure of between 3,000 and 5,000 recreational sites according to Coyne.
Though the ultimate goal, according to Kunert, is to improve the existing forest facilities in a sustainable manner, Coyne says that Congress should ensure more funding for national forests.
“Public facilities belonging to all Americans are at the risk of disappearing,” he said. “Preventing those losses will require Congress to ensure that recreation funding reaches sites on the ground, rather than being used up in administrative overhead.”
Public input on the Los Padres Recreation Facility Analysis is invited at the Ojai Ranger District Office at 1190 E. Ojai Avenue on Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Comments may also be sent to comments-pacificsouthwest-los-padres@fs.fed.us by Sept. 28.

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