Editor's Note: The following is a Letter to the Editor published by the Antelope Valley Press on August 1, 2007.
On Saturday, July 28, 2007, the Antelope Valley Press ran an Associated Press article on the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by private property owners seeking motorized access to Surprise Canyon Road in the Death Valley region. The article contained errors that require correction.
First, the headline erred by declaring the matter an "off-roading rights case" when it was not. Fortunately, the article itself clearly stated that the suit was actually one of private property ownership rights. That the property owners are off-roaders was 100% immaterial in the case and was never considered by the court. The ruling was procedural and dealt only with jurisdiction and standing.
Also, both the headline and the article claim that the road is in Death Valley. Although its upper reaches are within the boundaries of the newly expanded Death Valley National Park, Surprise Canyon Road is located entirely within Panamint Valley, which is separate and distinct watershed from Death Valley.
Third, the article stated that six conservation groups were "involved in the case." In fact, these groups were never granted the intervenor status they sought and, therefore, were not involved in the case.
Lastly, the article reported that Surprise Canyon Road was closed five years ago. It failed to mention that this closure is an interim one, and that it will be lifted upon the successful completion a management plan for the canyon. This plan is currently being jointly prepared by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.
During this planning process the public will be invited to review and comment on what we expect will be a wide range of alternatives regarding motorized access to Surprise Canyon Road. We've heard that there may be as many as eight or nine alternatives regarding motorized access, ranging from a full and permanent closure to remaining open. We at DeathValley.com hope for at least a sensible, moderate solution, such as allowing seasonal access for a limited number of motor vehicles.
For more than 100 years Surprise Canyon Road has been an important resource to the people of California. Motorized access to the road has long been enjoyed by generations of hunters, rock hounds, mining hobbyists, history buffs, Native Americans, painters and artisans, and back country hikers. The environmental threats perceived by the extremists are substantially imaginary and unproven, and we think that the current planning process will bear this out.
Earthjustice's tired cliche, that the dismissal marked "a great day for Surprise Canyon...," is more of the usual from these media-savvy drama queens. In reality, the battle over Surprise Canyon Road is just beginning, and both sides are still a long way from claiming victory.