Dust may fly as council considers off-road site
December 17, 2001
By Marianne Love
AZUSA -- Emotions are expected to run high tonight, when off-road
enthusiasts meet environmentalists in a battle over off-roading in the San
Gabriel riverbeds in the hills above Azusa.
The Azusa City Council is expected to decide whether to support Rincon OHV
Route, the 150-acre off-road area adjacent to Highway 39, or to recommend
a ban on off-roading.
Each side will come armed with environmental reports supporting its case.
The USDA Forest Service, scheduled to update its plan in December 2003,
makes the final decision whether the off-roaders stay or go.
The Forest Service took control of the off-highway area in 1988. Rangers
patrol it for violators.
Every Sunday, some 300 people migrate to the sanctioned playground about
11 miles north of Azusa to watch from the mountain ridge or at ground
Members of the Azusa Canyon Off-Road Association, a tight-knit group that
spends each Sunday playing in the mud or dust depending on the time of
year, call themselves environmentalists and say they respect the area and
take care of it.
"Nobody's talking about the improvements and monitoring that has been done
over the past 20 years," Mike Bishop, president of the 200-member group,
said on a recent Sunday from the cab of his white 1979 Ford F250.
Bishop said the hobbyists were blamed for endangering the Santa Ana sucker
fish, but it turns out bass found their way into the same area of the
stream and feed on threatened larva and minnows.
Water officials worry about rollovers resulting in contaminated drinking
But Bishop says his group's members have taken it upon themselves to carry
necessary supplies in case of an accident, which rarely happens.
"All cars have rollover valves with a ball-check that goes into place and
won't allow gas to escape," Bishop said. "All of the drive-train
components (underbellies) of the vehicles are sealed, keeping gas and oil
from leaking into the water."
But some environmentalists say the sport impacts the stream and its
aquatic life, polluting it with gas and floating oils, tire bits and zinc
from brake pads.
Others worry if the group gets kicked out it will go unleashed and do real
harm to the river and the drinking water.
And one environmentalist wonders whether the group is really destroying
"The San Gabriel Mountains are the fastest eroding mountains in the world
because of its composite granite," said Eileen Takata of the San Gabriel
Mountains Regional Conservancy. "Environmentalists are saying the OHVs are
destroying the environment, but I'm saying its already disturbed."
Takata said because the ecosystem is disturbed, sediments back up behind
the dam, raising the original levels of floodplains. The area is
periodically dredged behind the dam to remove the sediment for increased
It's that sediment that creates the dust off-roaders are blamed for
-- Marianne Love can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2108, or by e-mail
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