Residents concerned over Black Rock designation |

Residents concerned over Black Rock designation

Johnson Lane resident Larry Calkins sees an important battle over the Black Rock Desert looming ahead.

So do Mike Sturdevant of Concord Township, Ohio, and Derek Cooper of Ridgecrest, Calif.

Their names are all on letters to the Douglas County Commission, urging the board to oppose a proposal to designate part of the Black Rock-High Rock Canyon area, north of Gerlach, as a national conservation area.

The three letters express the same concern: If the Black Rock area gets a conservation area tag, Douglas County’s Pine Nut mountains will be next. The writers also worry that while conservation area status may start with broad guidelines, it will quickly shrink to restrict popular uses.

Calkins is president of the Nevada Nomads, an outdoor recreation club with about 100 members that travels in the Pine Nuts as well as the Black Rock. Calkins said he’s been exploring the Pine Nuts for 20 years, and moved to the Johnson Lane area 7 years ago because of its proximity to the mountain range.

“It’s our back yard,” he says. “This could very well be next. People have to become active in order to keep what recreational opportunities they have.”

Calkins plans to attend Thursday’s county commission meeting to urge support of a resolution opposing national conservation area status for the Black Rock area. Though no legislation has been drafted, Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., has proposed designating 500,000 acres in the Black Rock-High Rock Canyon area as a national conservation area.

Calkins is not the first Douglas resident to ask the county board to get involved in the issue, but the commissioners so far haven’t taken a stance.

Commission chairman Jacques Etchegoyhen said he has received a few phone calls, but he doesn’t know enough about the conservation area proposal to have formed an opinion.

“Most (callers) are concerned,” he said. “They’re afraid that a national conservation area would tie it up and make it the exclusive enclave of a few users.”

Etchegoyhen said he would prefer to see what stance the Washoe County Commission takes and support that. He said he’s not worried about the Pine Nuts being targeted for a similar designation because they are much smaller than the Black Rock area.

“I don’t think that the Pine Nuts are significant enough to look at on a national scale,” he said. “And I wonder, does the national conservation area designation lead to increased money or management? To me, it seems like it’s nothing more than rhetoric.”

Tom Baker, rural aide to Bryan, says misinformation about the impacts of a national conservation area is tainting public opinion. He said Bryan plans to work with any concerned groups, and the plan isn’t meant to limit grazing, recreation or major events like the Burning Man festival, the annual gathering that draws thousands to the Black Rock playa for a week around Labor Day.

“The senator has met with these people and told them that was not going to happen,” said Baker. “The senator is very definitely committed to multiple uses (on the Black Rock). He doesn’t want to see anything change. The idea is to give it a designation as unique and give the Bureau of Land Management a few more tools to help manage it.”

Baker also said the conservation area plan, if proposed, isn’t likely to lead to scrutiny of the Pine Nuts.

“Just because people want you to drive 15 mph in a school zone doesn’t mean we want you to drive 15 mph on every road,” he said.

The county commission will meet Thursday starting at 1:30 p.m. at 175 Highway 50, Stateline. The conservation area issue is scheduled toward the end of the agenda.


What: Douglas County Commission talks about national conservation area status for the Black Rock Desert

When: Thursday, 1:30 p.m.

Where: Stateline administration building, 175 Highway 50, Stateline

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