Monday, Oct. 04, 2010
Juniper Dunes access nears
By Kristi Pihl, Herald staff writer
Josh Del Carlo, 22, of Richland blasts up a dune road as he spends a day racing around Juniper Dunes in Franklin County.
County officials are working on taking over the first two miles of Peterson Road to allow better public access to the dunes. See story below.
County officials hope to be a step closer to securing public access to the Juniper Dunes Wilderness Area east of Pasco next year by taking over the first two miles of a private road leading to the public land.
Peterson Road, which is privately owned and maintained, is the most popular route to access Juniper Dunes, a popular area for off-road vehicles. But landowners along the road periodically have blocked it off because of problems with people using the road without permission to reach the dunes.
Tim Fife, Franklin County public works director, said the department's preliminary 2011 budget includes money to buy right of way for the first two miles of Peterson Road off the Pasco-Kaholtus Road.
The county will receive $700,000 from the federal Bureau of Land Management, which manages the wilderness, to purchase access and improve the road.
Congressman Doc Hastings authored the legislation that secured the money for Juniper Dunes access, said Mark Hatchel, BLM lands and realty specialist.
The road is dirt and gravel and is not up to county standards. Fife said the county hopes to pave the first two miles, but that will depend on funding and the cost, which still is being determined.
Juniper Dunes, with its large sand dunes, has been a popular regional outdoor recreation area for decades. Although it became a wilderness area in 1984, there never has been public access to the property, part of which is open to off-road vehicles and part of which is wilderness closed to all vehicles.
This year, about 32,238 visitors came to Juniper Dunes, said Molly Cobbs, spokeswoman for the BLM office in Spokane. The agency has traffic counters at the primary parking area.
Although making the first two miles of Peterson Road public will help, it won't be enough to provide full public access to the wilderness. There are two more miles before the road reaches the Juniper Dunes boundary, and those miles cross a mix of public and private land, Hatchel said.
BLM is in preliminary stages of seeking public access for that portion of the road, Cobbs said.
Hatchel said efforts to secure public access to Juniper Dunes have been going on for decades.
"If it was an easy process it would have taken place 20 years ago," he said. "I think we are very close to accomplishing the first step of that process."
Franklin County Commissioner Rick Miller said Juniper Dunes is an important tourist attraction and recreation site, and the commissioners have been pushing federal legislators to secure public access to the area.
"We are finally getting somewhere," he said.