Snowmos win big in new Forest Service plan
The Forest Service this past week unveiled an ambitious plan for a new staging area for motorized vehicles at the popular Shady Rest Staging Area.
The proposal went before the Mammoth Lakes Recreation Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 19. The commission is wrestling over a number of issues associated with the pipeline expansion project by the Casa Diablo geothermal plant, owned by Ormat Industries, Inc.
While the Forest Service says the proposal would not provide new access or increased capacity at the Shady Rest site, it nevertheless suggests 10 changes—some large, some small—to mollify recreation users concerned about the recreation impacts of the expanded pipeline.
Snowmobile enthusiasts stand to gain a one-mile-long, “rideback” trail, and would pick up a southern section currently situated on an existing non-motorized trail.
In addition, the plan calls for a designated area to park and lock snowmobiles at the entrance to “New Shady Camp,” authorized winter RV camping and a new, two-acre parking area that could handle parallel parking for vehicles up to 65 feet long.
The new plan is a long way from being etched in mulch, however, not only because any project on pubic land takes time to wend its way through government process, but also because of the complexity of the geothermal plant’s expansion.
The public would have until Friday, March 1, to comment on the plan, either by writing, fax, or email. However, Katy Rich of the Inyo National Forest Supervisor’s Office said there is wiggle room built in to accommodate comments until March 15.
The recreation commission didn’t wait that long, however, to put the proposal as the top topic of its agenda.
The commission (chaired by longtime snowmobile enthusiast Bill Sauser) conducted a workshop with Rich, members of the Mammoth Lakes Trail System Coordinating Committee (MLTSCC), and the National Forest’s recreation director, Jon Kazmierski.
The commissioners got an earful from Mammoth Nordic’s Brian Knox, who raised concerns over the overlap between the snowmobilers and the skiers.
“This,” he said, “is a huge step backward. It doesn’t match the town’s goals and objectives. We’ve made tremendous progress in establishing a fair and reasonable opportunity for both user groups (cross country skiers and snowmobilers) to start in the same location and travel in opposite directions, maintaining that separation of use.
“Where things get dicey is the notion that there has to be an OSV rideback trail and/or a snowcat grooming trail.
“If we’re going to go to the trouble of creating a staging area that’s further out from the existing location, this OSV rideback trail is going to be on the non-motorized trail system that the town funded with a non-motorized federal grants program.”
Kazmierski cautioned the commissioners, Knox, and audience members that the plan is still wide open for discussion and interpretation.
“We want to get all the issues on the table,” he said. “We want to make sure we talk about it.
“It’s an idea. It’s up for discussion.”
At the core of the issue is a plan by Ormat Technologies, Inc., to extend its operations to the west side of U.S. 395 by drilling as many as 16 new wells. The pipeline to bring the geothermal brine from those wells to the plant would be on top of the ground, save for three snowmobile crossing areas.
Because this is a one-of-a-kind project, both the town and the Forest Service kicked it into the fast lane.
“Due to the Casa Diablo geothermal pipeline proposal, there are anticipated conflicts with current staging areas and safe access to riding areas,” wrote Jon Regelbrugge, the Mammoth District Ranger, in a statement that accompanied the staging area changes.
Ultimately, Regelbrugge said he and his staff took a long look at the entire staging area and came up with the 10-point plan that begins and ends about one mile from S.R. 203 on the north side of Sawmill Cutoff Road.
With the ball now rolling on the project, the public’s chance to chime in is fairly straightforward.
Knox, for one, already is on the case and chiming away.