DeathValley.com has learned that Alan Stein replaced Richard Crowe as the Bureau of Land Management's lead on the Surprise Canyon EIS project. Stein is the Deputy District Manager for the BLM's California Desert District Office in Moreno Valley and has served in the past as Interim District Manager. As the signing officer for the 2002 Notice of Intent for the project Stein is well versed in the issues and history of the road that has been under a temporary closure since February 2001.
Crowe was replaced due to his recent retirement. Many members of the access community expressed concern over Crowe's service as the project lead once they learned that he owned property in the disputed area within Surprise Canyon.
An agency draft is reportedly still making its way through the BLM and Death Valley National Park, a stage in which the project has languished for almost a year. Meanwhile, all former signs of the once vital road through the canyon have all but disappeared, and the main canyon is now so choked with vegetation that hikers are reporting difficulty in penetrating.
DeathValley.com editor Randy Banis suggested to the BLM in January that a hiking path be established not only to aid in public access through the canyon, but to prevent the resource damage that is occurring due to random trampling by hikers. However, BLM Ridgecrest Outdoor Recreation Planner Marty Dickes opposed the idea because "there are some people who do not want a trail". BLM Ridgecrest Field Manager Hector Villalobos stated that no trail would be considered while the EIS was in progress.Banis reminded the BLM that the canyon floor was not in wilderness, and that the temporary closure affected motor vehicle travel only. He contended that the closure order was in effect for the purpose of protecting resources and that defining a hiking trail for the same purpose would not be contradictory. It is unknown at this time if the EIS will even address foot traffic in the canyon.