March 4, 2014

Off-roaders’ battle over Johnson Valley recreation area ends

The Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle
Recreation Area hosts the famous
“King of the Hammers” Race. (SEMA)
Staff Report
Tire Business

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — After a six-year battle over the future of the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Recreation Area in the Southern California desert, the issue finally has been settled.

After a consistent grassroots effort by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) and other partner organizations, a legislative solution was finally reached to create a dedicated OHV recreation area and provide land for military training exercises, as well.

As explained by SEMA’s Action Network (SAN), “The issue was simple—how to expand the adjoining Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms while preserving recreation access to 189,000 acres at Johnson Valley.

“The Marines needed the additional land to simulate brigade-level expeditionary force movements and the Johnson Valley topography seemed ideal for training purposes.”

SEMA said the debate “reached a crescendo in 2013,” and a decision required Congressional approval.

Under a provision included within the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law last December, 79,000 acres of Johnson Valley has been transferred to the Twentynine Palms military base. Simultaneously, the law created the “Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area,” providing federal protection to over 96,000 acres established in 1980 for OHV recreation by the state of California.

It is the first time an OHV area has been provided national recognition, according to the SAN. Twice a year, 53,000 acres of the OHV area will be provided to the Marine Corps for 30 days of military training exercises, it explained, noting no dud-producing ordnance will be used at that time in order to assure safety and continued OHV access to the area.

“The SAN commends Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., for the instrumental role he has played in reaching a reasonable shared-use solution,” said SAN Director Colby Martin. “We joined with a number of other organizations representing the off-road community to support this provision that addresses the nation’s military training needs while providing access for responsible recreational activities.

“We consider this ground-breaking provision a positive result for both the OHV community and the United States Marine Corps.”

The recreation area will continue to be controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). SEMA said it contains a unique mix of open desert, dry lake beds and formidable rock-crawling formations that attracts four-wheeler enthusiasts from around the world.

The area hosts the famous “King of the Hammers” Race, which drew more than 50,000 people to the 2013 event. The BLM estimates that Johnson Valley generates more than $71 million annually for local economies—an amount that will continue to grow, SEMA said.

Rep. Paul Cook, in a statement, said “the agreement preserves California’s most important off-road recreation area for future generations.

“After years in which off-roaders have lived in fear of the closure of Johnson Valley, this permanently ends the threat of base expansion into off-road areas.”

Prior to being elected to Congress in 2012, he served a 26-year career in the Marine Corps before retiring as a colonel. SEMA said Rep. Cook has lived for years in the area that includes Johnson Valley and the Twentynine Palms base and represented those communities in the California state legislature before his election to Congress.

The SAN said it worked collaboratively with the Off-Road Business Association (ORBA); California Motorized Recreation Council (CMRC); Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC); and Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA).

CMRC includes ORBA; California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs (Cal4Wheel); California Off-Road Vehicle Association (CORVA); American Motorcyclist Association National (AMA); AMA District 36; AMA District 37 Off-Road; San Diego Off-Road Coalition (SDORC); American Sand Association (ASA); and California-Nevada Snowmobile Association (CNSA).