February 13, 2007

Mojave National Preserve ponders entrance fees

Desert Dispatch [Barstow, CA]

KELSO - Visitors to the Mojave National Preserve could begin paying an entrance fee as soon as next year, a park ranger at the Mojave National Preserve said.

The proposed fees are $10 per vehicle for seven days and $20 for a year pass, although the fee is still under study and the National Park Service is accepting public comments, park ranger Linda Slater said. These fees could take effect on Jan. 1, 2008.

The fees were discussed at a community meeting at the Kelso Depot Visitor Center in the preserve on Saturday along with a nearly complete project to legally define wilderness areas and the cleanup of Morningstar Mine, where cyanide used to leach out gold spilled from a pond.
Entrance fees at Joshua Tree National Park are $15 per vehicle, and at Death Valley National Park, they are $20 per vehicle, Slater said.

Meanwhile, the Park Service is wrapping up wilderness mapping in which a group of people is "ground truthing" the boundaries that Congress drew up a map when it established the preserve under the 1994 Desert Protection Act, Slater said.

"Some local landowners feel like areas they could drive to in the past, they can't drive to anymore," she said, although wilderness boundaries are not being altered. "What people are seeing on the ground is that more and more wilderness is being marked."

Cleanup of Morningstar Mine, where heavy rain caused cyanide contaminated water to overflow and leak from a pond, could begin as early as May or June, said Larry Whalon, chief of natural and cultural resources for Mojave National Preserve. The mine was active periodically throughout the 20th century and stopped operation in 1990.

The Park Service will be able to minimize the cost of cleaning up the mine by getting a private contractor involved, Whalon said. The contractor will clean up the contamination and remove heaps of rock, which will be used as an additive to cement, perhaps for freeways, he said.

"It will take a year to clean the site up, then probably five years to remove the heaps."

The National Park Service is in the process of setting up a public comment section on its Web site, www.nps.gov/moja. Comments can also be mailed to Mojave National Preserve, Superintendent, 2701 Barstow Road, Barstow, CA, 92311.