Earlier I warned our readers that the Bureau of Land Management's Barstow Field Office was preparing a proposal to increase user access fees at the popular Dumont Dunes motorized recreation area. We wondered aloud if we'd see any opposition to "another $15 or $20" on top of the current $60 annual fee.
Well, have I got a surprise for you. How about another $80?
The proposal currently on the table would raise cost of an annual pass to $140.
If you want a good opportunity to say something about this, it would be Tuesday, March 6, at 10:00 am, at the BLM Barstow Field Office during the meeting of the Dumont Dunes Technical Review Team.
In years past the Barstow Field Office could rely on some reasonable level of State of California OHV funds for managing the busy Dumont Dunes area. However, this year at the last minute some pet projects were re-scored by the environmentalist majority of the commission that awards the annual grants, causing the regular funding for Dumont Dunes to be eliminated entirely.
Unfortunately, with the need to provide services, maintenance and facilities for the 30,000+ people that visit on peak weekends, the BLM Barstow Office has seen the area's expenses bloat to over a million dollars per year. The stark reality is that without the California OHV funds they have come to depend on, the only options for the BLM are to raise fees or reduce services at Dumont Dunes.
Currently, there are two tiers of fees for recreating at Dumont Dunes: a seven day permit costs $20; and an annual permit is $60. Under this fee schedule the BLM was able to raise only $414,000, net of earnings by the fee collection contractor.
The BLM will be suggesting a new fee schedule that includes three tiers: a three day pass for $30; a ten day pass for $50; and an annual pass for $140. Through this new fee schedule the BLM proposes to raise the entire $1 million necessary to cover all of the agency's expenses at Dumont Dunes.
For the family that trolls into Dumont Dunes four times a year with $250,000 in personal property, the additional $80 per year is not going to make them abandon their very favorite activity, or even cause them to go elsewhere.
Then there is Cindy Barton, who sits with me on the BLM's Ridgecrest Steering Committee. She and her family visit Dumont Dunes from Trona in their pick up truck, with one quad strapped down in the back. Cindy describes her family as the "only ones at Dumont Dunes that sleep in a tent". The $80 increase will severely bite into their family recreation budget and would likely cause them to have to reduce the number of their visits to make up for it.
I'm hearing the same from some who live in Baker and Barstow. They are feeling pushed out of what was once a source of inexpensive recreation on their local public lands. Perhaps a $30 three day pass every now and then will have to suffice for those of less means or less financial commitment to the activity.
I'm also concerned about the impact of the fee increase on those simply passing through along the old Tonopah and Tidewater railroad berm. This decades long, designated route of travel now conveniently defines the eastern boundary of the Dumont Dunes OHV open area. Everything immediately east of the T&T is designated Wilderness which is off limits to all motorized travel.
Retracing the old T&T railroad is a popular four-wheel drive activity, one that an ordinary SUV can successfully complete. From Ludlow to Beatty there is but one stretch that is off limits to motorized travel, which is through the sensitive Amargosa Canyon. Fortunately, the designated Sperry Wash Road provides a suitable detour for vehicles looking to continue along the T&T on their own personal journey through history.
Should the BLM implement a fee increase it must ensure free passage for motorized passage along the T&T railroad between the Valjean Valley and Sperry Wash.
Which leads to my biggest concern about the fee in general, and that is the chilling impact that the fee has on day-users. Dumont Dunes used to be a wonderful stop for those exploring Southern Death Valley, particularly for those traveling to Furnace Creek from Baker. Once the $20 toll was put in place, casual multiple use touring all but ceased at Dumont Dunes. At previous TRT meetings, I expressed my desire to see Dumont Dunes return as a destination for ordinary passersby, but the BLM did not hear me. Rather than take this golden opportunity now to fix this problem, there no proposal for a day use pass, and the entrance fee increase to $30 will now certain close Dumont Dunes to any day user that is not a "duner".
As a member of the Dumont Dunes Technical Review Team what I find most revolting is not the large fee increase, but what has caused the need for such a large increase, and that is the loss of OHV funds from the State OHV Commission.