Saline Valley folks still have issues with Park Service

By Deb Murphy

While the Inyo Board of Supervisors was satisfied with the Park Service’s efforts to compromise between existing conditions at Saline Valley and its own rules and regulations, users weren’t as pleased.

Close to 40 long-standing Saline Valley campers attended last Wednesday’s community outreach in Bishop to go through the Death Valley National Park’s management plan preferred alternative. “The plan tries to, and does, find a way to preserve existing uses,” Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds told the group.

He acknowledged there was flexibility in Park Service norms, suggesting there may be a way to keep the grass and palms—destined to be removed directly or by attrition in the preferred alternative—but no flexibility when it came to health and safety, specifically wastewater disposal. He stressed the value of public comment since the regional director, not Reynolds, will make the final decision.

One of Saline Preservation Association member Michele Hamilton’s concerns focused on the self-governing group’s efforts. If the final management plan calls for Park Service staff to take care of the area, what will happen to the will of those who have taken care of the hot springs for years? That was one question not addressed at the outreach session.

The group really wanted to keep the palm trees and Bermuda grass. The plan calls for the eventual removal of the grassy lawn, the removal of palms at the upper springs and death by attrition of the others. The SPA’s argument was the trees, that provide both shade and a wind break, aren’t spreading. The Park Service staff explained the Saline palms are relatively young and once they reach maturity they will start popping up everywhere just as they have at Scotty’s Castle.

The plan calls for replacement of palms with cottonwoods, a fast-growing tree that falls like dominos in high winds. The Bermuda grass replacement would be salt grass, which, apparently, attract black widows.

The group wasn’t a big fan of the burro fencing. Reynolds explained the 3.7 mile perimeter of fencing was designed to not be visible from the camping area. But for those in attendance, it still didn’t make much sense. Like the Town of Mammoth Lakes’ bears, the Death Valley burros are drawn to camp areas by offers of carrots.

As prey animals, equines are normally timid. But, when it comes to treats, they can be aggressive. According to Hamilton, the burros are as skilled as raccoons and bears in breaking into campers’ food supplies. The group’s solution was “don’t feed the burros” education and fencing around water sources.

On delineated camp sites, the group emphasized self-policing and educating new campers.

The auto shop, run by camp host Lizard Lee, a retired auto mechanic, represents a hazardous material issue, according to Reynolds. The group stressed the importance of at least tire repair equipment, noting the high cost of calling a tow truck to the site.

There was a sense Death Valley staff wanted to accommodate concerns of Saline Valleyites, preserving as much as possible of the user groups’ efforts at the site. Reynolds and other staff members stressed the value of comments to the preferred alternative.

 

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