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Access to BLM land blocked

This story was published Monday, February 7th, 2005

By Anna King, Herald staff writer

The main western access point into the federally owned expanse of undeveloped sand dunes and juniper trees has been blocked off.

The Kennewick man said he recently discovered a barricade of straw, sand and concrete blocking his usual entryway off Peterson Road, a private gravel drive that leads to the Juniper Dunes Wilderness Area off Pasco-Kahlotus Highway. Signs posted now say, "Private Property" and "No Trespassing."

He's not too happy about it.

"We won't be able to go out that way and ride the horses out there," the 74-year-old Davison said. "It's good exercise for an old guy like me. If it hadn't been for this horse, there are places where I would have never went."

Steve DeRuyter, who owns 5D Farms and the land that outdoor enthusiasts have to cross to access the dunes, placed the barricade on his property about two months ago. He said he's sick and tired of unwelcome visitors.

"No one is going to be riding on my property," DeRuyter said. "I've had people tearing up our place, riding all over heck. There has been damage done and we were forced not only from that, but from liability, to keep our property secure."

But the roadblock has horse riders, hikers and four-wheelers upset. The road had been the best way to get to the area of the Juniper Dunes that is open to off-road vehicles.

Even Franklin County Fire District 3 officials aren't too pleased and say the obstruction could cause serious problems if fire trucks and emergency aid can't access the area to fight wildfires or pull out injured people.

Officials from Franklin County and the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the dunes, are planning a meeting at the end of the month to discuss what can be done about the beautiful and sometimes desolate 17,000 acres that has no dedicated public access. It is surrounded by private land.

DeRuyter said visitors have to cross about a mile of his property to get to the dunes.

"It saddens me. I would say 90 percent of the people are really fantastic," he said. "(But) there are a percentage of people who don't respect private property, and they ruined it for the rest."

DeRuyter also said big farm tractors and equipment can be a dangerous mix with motorcycles, people and animals. The dairyman said he was willing to work with BLM officials to find a solution.

"We are just trying to protect ourselves," he said.

Kathleen Helm, a Spokane-based BLM official, said there is not much her agency can do.

"Peterson Road is owned by the landowners," she said. "We have no jurisdiction over that road."

Helm said the BLM has fielded at least a few calls a day since DeRuyter blocked the road.

"There is not much we can tell people," she said. "If that were a county road there wouldn't be a problem, but it's not a county road."

Helm said the lack of access to the Juniper Dunes is a common story across the country, where federal and private lands create a checkerboard pattern of ownership.

In the past, the agency has tried to buy adjoining land to alleviate conflicts between private landowners and the public. But Helm said the agency is limited by its budget.

Les Litzenberger, chief of Franklin County Fire District 3, said the road blockage and poor condition of Peterson Road could cause a big problem.

"We would have trouble getting around something like that," he said. "We know that somebody is going to get in anyway. They are going to get hurt, and we are going to get called."

In August 2003, about 4,000 acres of the wilderness area burned after a lightning storm. The area's rugged and sand-soaked terrain is so difficult for firefighters to negotiate that a blaze can quickly burn out of control, Litzenberger said.

He said every year injured visitors have to be rescued by helicopter. That number could rise without road access, he added.

Tim Fife, Franklin County public works director, said Peterson could possibly become a county road, but not without some expensive improvements. And that would be unlikely, he said.

Some vow the barrier won't keep them from the dunes.

"We will just go around it," said Andrew Bruce of Richland, who said he enjoys taking his trail-ready 1987 Toyota into the dunes with friends.

"It would definitely be missed if they shut it down," he said. "It's kinda a nice place to go up for the day. It is the closest area we could go to."

Bruce said the dunes give him and his friends a quick getaway. "You can fly across the sand and have a good time," he said.

Yet, Bruce said he was not aware that users were crossing private land to get to the dunes and said he understood DeRuyter's concerns.

"I know if I lived up there I wouldn't want people flying up that road," he said.

Ralph Hovland, who lives on Peterson Road, said he's had enough of living on the main thoroughfare.

"We've got too many people coming here all hours of the day and night," he said. "People come in here all the time asking, 'Can you pull us out? Can we use your phone?' "

Hovland said farm equipment has been stolen, shot full of holes and otherwise damaged.

"If BLM wants them in there, then let them build a road and police it," he said.

The only other access route to Juniper Dunes also is controlled by a private landowner about 10 miles north of Eltopia. But this eastern portion of the area is wilderness and is open only to hikers.

Jerry Chatelain, who lives off Joy Road, said he has fewer problems than his neighbors to the west because hikers are allowed through his property only in March, April and May. And he said no horses, dirt bikes or vehicles are allowed to cross his ground.

Still, problems can arise when people cross a quarter mile of his dryland wheat and pasture to reach the dunes, Chatelain said.

"I do worry about it when the cows and calves are down there," he said. "The cows are protective."

And Chatelain said he fears increased pressure for access from growing populations in the Tri-Cities and surrounding towns may force him to do the same as DeRuyter.

"If there are any problems, we will have to close it," he said.

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From what I see here, it will never open again. But what I also see here is the BLM has what has been classified on behalf of the public, as a recreation area. A recreation area for which there is no access. Again I reiterate a statement I made at the beginning of this fiasco. The BLM which exists off of tax dollars is using those dollars to a certain extent to maintain a recreation area which cannot be used for recreation. That is a misappropriation of tax dollars, a misrepresentation of tax dollar use. At some point the rider groups and association will have to attack this vulnerability in a legal way. Forcing a pay back of such tax dollars to the public or rectifying the situation. Until someones pockets begins to hurt nothing is going to be done about this situation. This land belongs to all taxpayers and is overseen by organizations which use tax dollars. The public has a legal right to be angry and expect action.

In the above news article it seemed clear to me that the county will never assume the responsability of this road. The BLM also claims not to have the funds. Maybe the BLM should subsidize a helicopter service so that riders and their bikes could be airlifted in for a reasonable fee :cry:.

Where are you BRC? Where are you AMA? Where are you NMA? Obviously this cannot be tackled by an individual. We paid for something folks. :cry:

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Too bad Washington doesn't have a strong pro off-road senator or congressman. If you can't get any action at a local level go higher up the food chain.


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I think that local buisness owners would also be interested in this. There is a ton of "out of town" $$ that come in this time of year.

I'd like to help in trying to solve this problem.... Is there some sort of group or committee working on this?


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I completely agree with Old Man Time's statement. It really burns me up that government agencies which recieve my tax dollars for the specific purpose of maintaining these "public lands" just allow us(the public) to be cut off from these areas we paid to have maintained.

Unfortunately, this is another occurrance of a trend which will be difficult to stop, riding areas are getting closed to riders all over the place. If we don't all make our voices heard, we won't have anywhere left to ride.

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I spoke with a friend in Kennewick this morning. She said they have been riding there. They park before the road block on BLM land and ride in.

From what she told me the landowner has kids that ride bikes and that the landowner is letting his kids and friends all have access. Kind of like it is now thier own private play ground. She also said the land owner is a bit of an arogant a$$ hole. Like they think this is a fun game. She also said her husband ran into a Shieriff out there and he told them to go ahead and ride.

Just what I was told so I am passing it on for what it is worth.


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Can you blame the guy for being fed up? I love motorcycles, but I don't want a bunch of people on bikes riding back and forth on my property every single day. It only takes one or two punks who don't respect the fact that this guy is nice enough to let ORVers use his road and BAM, no more access. It's his property, afterall. The problem isn't the guy who owns the property, the problem is the lack of support that just about anything related to ORVs gets. How can it be that there are so many people owning dirtbikes, quads, buggies, etc, all paying licensing fees and pumping tax money into the system, yet there is still such a huge lack of support for ORV recreation areas? Makes you wonder where all that money is going, that's for sure.

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