By Fred Wiley
In the days leading up to the annual King of the Hammers you can have a conversation across Means dry lakebed at surprising distance. It is amazingly quiet when the Marines are not training, a racecar or motorcycle is not running across the miles of open area trails, and the wind is not blowing. The solitude of Johnson Valley changes to excitement when almost 50,000 enthusiasts from around the globe descend on the area now known as Hammertown.
Five years ago when the US Navy submitted a “Withdrawal” for training purposes, the King of the Hammers was just growing legs and developing into one of the premier OHV events in the United States. The thought that the OHV industry would lose the area was not taken lightly. Knowing a lawsuit would not be the best course of action the industry decided to fight in a new way.
With over 23,000 written comments, dozens of public meetings, and over 30,000 petitions to the President of the United States the stage was set for motorized recreation to defend the largest OHV open area in the USA. At the same time we organized Save the Hammers, hired an advocate group in Washington DC and began intense fundraising with OHV Businesses providing the majority of funding. Testimony was provided to congress and meetings with congressional Armed Services Committee leadership and their staff was incorporated as an important part of this process. Some relationships developed with Congressional leadership were derailed by an election, as we lost two allies proving the OHV community needs to continuously engage in the process.
The end result is in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act. The new law is a win for most everyone. Providing the first Congressionally designated OHV are in the United States, and at the same time outlining the “Shared Use Area” while providing for the necessary area to meet the goal of the Marine Corps. Don’t get me wrong there were some valuable areas that we were unable to retain. Those areas will be addressed in the management phase.
The new NDAA was clear about the how Military, the BLM and the stakeholders will manage the “Shared Area” ORBA, CMRC and the new partners the Marines as well as the BLM will be guiding the process under the law. CMRC will be working directly with a local group of stakeholders, the Friends of Johnson Valley to insure the continued voice of the recreating public into future plans for Johnson Valley. While this chapter comes to an end, the story will continue to unfold for Johnson Valley over the coming years, and those that love this area will need to stay engaged to guarantee the area continues to offer well-balanced use.