If you have ever ridden in the western states it may seem that the states set aside large tracts of land specifically for motorcycling. There are thousands of miles of roads and trails through vast, undeveloped territory. This leads to amazing rides with breathtaking scenery. One reason there is so much open space is that most of the land which makes up the western states is federal land. Nevada for example, is 84.5%. Compare that to Connecticut, which is only 0.4% federal land. The benefit of so much federal land to motorcyclists is unfettered access with very few "no trespassing" signs.
One such area is the Arizona Strip, which makes up the northwestern corner of Arizona. Its really a motorcycling paradise. Because of the isolation and extremely sparse population, you may ride all day and not see another person. However, its a multiple use area with many different activities besides motorcycling. Understanding land use and management may help riders maintain good public relations and maintain access to the land.
Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 describes how the government manages the land. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for the largest sections of land in the area. In the recent past, some residents of western states have accused the BLM of overstepping their bounds concerning land management. Supporters of Cliven Bundy, the rancher at the center of an armed standoff last April, are among those unhappy with the BLM.
Rachel Carnahan, the BLM Public Affairs Officer of the Arizona Strip District, has not encountered anyone who is adverse to the BLM. However, she does welcome anyone to go to their local BLM district office and talk out any issues they might have.
Carnahan, like most BLM officials, is very familiar with the land in her area. She has lived in Southern Utah since 1997, and has been with the BLM since 2007. Additionally she is involved in several outdoor activities including OHV riding. She emphasizes that the BLM officers live in the areas they serve. They are not only familiar with the land; they also fully understand the issues and attitudes of the local community. They do their job because, as Carnahan explained, “they really care about the land. They put their heart and soul into it.”
The key focus of the BLM, including the enforcement officers who patrol the Arizona Strip, is “educating land use etiquette.” Carnahan explains. “There are a lot of different groups who use the land: mineral collectors, hunters, scientists, OHV riders… it’s a shared use area. If everyone respects the land and uses it properly, the land can remain healthy.” Motorcyclists and OHV riders do their part to preserve the land by staying on existing trails. This allows riders to enjoy the area without damaging the fragile desert ecosystem.
Another role of the BLM is to protect archaeological sites. The Arizona Strip is rich with Native American history. Carnahan cautions, “if you find something, leave it where you found it.” This allows archaeologists to piece together vital information about the culture which otherwise could be lost forever. Federal laws, as outlined in the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, restrict removing Native American artifacts. If you do come across any artifacts, it is best to note where they are and notify the local BLM office or National Park Service office.
An area in northern Arizona that is popular with motorcyclists and OHV riders, which is also rich in Native American history, is Little Black Mountain. This area with petroglyphs represents a history of over 6000 years of inhabitants. Many American Indians consider it a sacred location. The BLM encourages the public to visit the site to gain an appreciation for the area’s history.
One challenge for the BLM is trash in the desert. People bring all kinds of things out there, often to use as target practice, and leave it. The BLM coordinates with groups such as the Boy Scouts of America and the Tri State ATV Club that help haul away trash. Participation from volunteers is critical to keeping the land free from trash.
One young motorcyclist who was picking up trash recently was Preston Clark. He visits the Arizona Strip at least once a month to ride his Honda CRF230f. He says he is not very familiar with the BLM but he appreciates the access to the land. He likes the area “because of the trails and all the cool places to ride,” he said. Sometimes he picks up trash when he is there to make the area look nicer. “Plus,” he adds, “it helps save the wildlife.”
The role of the BLM is to manage the land and its resources. As land users, motorcyclists and OHV riders also play a part in taking care of the land. Preserving the land and maintaining a good relationship with those who manage it will help ensure the land is accessible for many future generations.
Written by Brent Whitney