Old Morris Ranch and Wagon Wheel roads are the subject of a petition by a group called “Residents, Neighbors and Friends of Garner Valley” that seeks to stop the closure of these back-access roads by the U.S. Forest Service.
The Petition has been referred to the office of Congressman Raul Ruiz. Michael Ford of Ruiz’s office said, “Dr. Ruiz, on behalf of his constituents, is working directly with the Forrest Service to find a solution and ensure the roads remain open and accessible to the public for recreation and emergency evacuation.”
In an article published in the Anza Valley Outlook on Aug. 9, Margaret Wellman Jaenke believes the closure could create a potentially disastrous situation in the event of a fire. Jaenke writes, “It would be dangerous for the children at Camp Scherman and families living at Trails End if the Forest Service goes through with plans to ‘chunk’ [completely destroy with pits and holes] two alternate routes that are available as an escape in the event of a fire.”
Chucking involves creating a series of staggered pits and holes — some as much as 3- to 4-feet deep — along a trail designated for closure. It is one of many processes the Usfs uses for restoration.
“I want to kill that [belief] today,” said San Jacinto District Ranger Arturo Delgado, “There is going to be no chunking.”
The roads are designated as “unclassified” roads, he said. The Federal Register defines unclassified as “a road on National Forest System lands that is not managed as part of the forest transportation system, such as unplanned roads, abandoned travelways and off-road vehicle tracks that have not been designated and managed as a trail; and those roads that were once under permit or other authorization and were not decommissioned upon the termination of the authorization.”
“There’s a little bit of difference between the two roads,” Delgado said. “Old Morris Ranch Road is currently under a special use permit, which is an allowable use for the permittee, which is Anza Electric, to use that road for maintaining their facilities.”
Because Anza Electric Co-op had a valid permit prior to the law being implemented in 2001, it is exempt. The permit has expired, but the USFS is in the process of reissuing a new permit so the road will continue as it has always been. “The long and short of the story is that we are going to revert everything back to the way it was pre-fire,” said Delgado.
Wagon Wheel Road is different in that a special use permit was never issued so it is not exempted under the law. It is an unclassified, unauthorized road and the law prohibits the USFS from adding new roads as forest system roads.
“One thing that is important to keep in mind is that before the fire [Wagon Wheel Road] was not really a passable road from what I understand …” Delgado said, “We reopened it as a contingency plan during the Mountain Fire to protect the community in the event the fire kept moving in that direction.” It is not a road that is open to the public. The road is currently gated to allow it to naturally restore to its pre-fire condition.
“I would ask the community to help support us, in the spirit of cooperation, to try to work together and try to help restore these areas back to what they should be for their intended purpose and use,” said Delgado. “They are going to be able to use the area as long as it is not as a defined road to be used by vehicles.”