May 02, 2014 9:21 PM
SHEA JOHNSON, STAFF WRITER
About 10 miles northwest of Adelanto, flirting with the western edge of the San Bernardino County line, sits a 24,000-square-foot patch of desert known as El Mirage Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area.
While run by the Bureau of Land Management, El Mirage is no different than the millions of acres in California set aside for environmental protection and recreation, relying heavily on state money — including grants, OHV registration fees and fuel tax — to fund its various programs and activities.
The facility opened itself Thursday to higher-ups and volunteers during the quarterly commission meeting of the State Parks’ Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division. El Mirage touted new off-road trails, education outreach and a $2 million visitors’ center.
“For me, I’m absolutely thrilled to see how grant money is being spent,” OHMVR Deputy Director Chris Conlin said. “This is a recognition of how well this place is operating. We’re not just here by happenstance.”
A stark contrast exists at El Mirage between its Shadow Mountains and 7-mile long lake bed, which in turn provides for a wide-ranging event lineup; the area features regular riding for OHVs, but also hiking, gyrocopter flying, model rocketry, landsailing and straight-track racing.
“This is unique because of all the activities that go on here,” said Paul Slavik, OHMVR Commission chair. “It’s a huge area to kind of ignore.”
And it attracts roughly 80,000 visitors annually, according to the BLM’s Rose Beardshear, who said recreationists have been frequenting the area since the 1930s, well before it was managed.
State and federal officials say they must strike a delicate balance, however, between hosting recreation activity and fostering environmental protection. It’s not always easy, according to Conlin.
“There’s kind of a natural conflict where people would like to see no recreation on land like this,” he said.
But officials preach youth involvement to push appreciation of the land and its critters from the get-go. Efforts to transform a “spaghetti maze” of OHV paths into well-defined riding trails have also helped.
“We have seen natural vegetation coming back, we have seen wildlife coming back,” said James Lynn, with the nonprofit American Conservation Experience.
Several officials lauded volunteers — groups like Friends of El Mirage — and visitors for their roles in the upkeep of the facility, which seemed to impress the commission.
“You go to any park, you can always tell how invested visitors are by the amount of trash,” said Kent Miller, the State Parks superintendent of the Hungry Valley Sector.
“There’s virtually no trash,” Slavik said.
Shea Johnson may be reached at 760-955-5368 or SJohnson@VVDailyPress.com
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