BLM projects improvements for Keyesville

By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is looking to the future in terms of how they will manage the 11,000 acres within the Keyesville Recreation area. And first on their agenda will be the implementation of projects contained in the Bakersfield Resource Management Plan. Some of those projects include an evaluation of the multi-use trail system, along with revisions to how and where camping will be allowed.

The projects are not new ideas, they have been in discussion for several years, said Gabriel Garcia, Field Manager with the Bakersfield Office of the BLM. With the approval of the Bakersfield Resource Management Plan (RMP) in December 2014, the BLM is ready to launch the projects.

The Bakersfield RMP serves as a long-range management tool by providing broad-scale direction for the future management of BLM administered public lands and resources. The RMP planning area encompasses a large area, with approximately 17 million acres. The BLM Bakersfield office is responsible for approximately 400,000 acres of public land.

“We have been talking about these projects for the past four years,” said Garcia, adding that they are now ready to implement the plan.

The Keyesville recreation area plays host to a multitude of uses, such as mining, hiking, rafting, camping and fishing. With approximately 200 miles of multi-use trails, the area attracts mountain bike enthusiasts, along with motorcycle riders, hikers and equestrian riders.

According to Garcia, the BLM held a series of public workshops during the preparation of the RMP, seeking input from those who use BLM administered lands. He said that during those workshops, they heard from numerous individuals who enjoy the many outdoor activities in Keyesville.

Garcia said the agency will use a phase-in approach to implement the projects.

Phase I will focus on the 200 miles of trails within the Keyesville recreation area, he said.

While BLM is not proposing any major changes to the existing trails in Keyesville, Garcia stated that they will be evaluating what is already in place to determine if some of the trails should be re-designated. For instance, they will evaluate if single bike trails should be widened to accommodate the larger all-terrain vehicles, or if some of the trails should be designated for a specific type of user, such as bikes or horses only.

BLM is also considering the potential re-routing of some trails to create connectivity between BLM and Forest Service lands, which would allow people to ride back and forth between the two agency-administered areas.

Phase I will also address the safety aspect of the trail system by ensuring that the trails are properly mapped with adequate signage regarding the level of difficulty.
“We want to make sure that the public knows and understands the difficulty level of the trails so people don’t get onto a trail that will surpass their riding capabilities,” Garcia said.

Garcia expects Phase I to be implemented over a one to 2-year timeframe. He said public meetings will be held to gather input from the various trail users. No meetings have yet to be scheduled, but Garcia expects the first public meeting will be held within the next 6 months. Prior to any public meeting, BLM staff will prepare a draft document that unveils the Phase I plan, and that document would be available for public review.

Phase II will tackle another popular recreational aspect: camping.

“Camping will be a big task,” Garcia said. “Our RMP specifically states that there is not to be any camping within 100 yards of the river, and we currently have camping right along the river on both the north and south sides of the river in the Keyesville area.”

Garcia said in order to comply with the 100-yard setback, BLM staff is considering construction of developed campgrounds away from the river. “The river would still be available for day use, so people can enjoy fishing, wading or safe swimming,” he said. “We had too many near-misses along the river this past summer, with two fatalities.”

Camping in the Keyesville area is currently free of charge with a 14-day limit. Garcia said they may implement a camping fee once developed campgrounds are in place.

Phase II will also address some of the problems that occur in Keyesville due to high visitor use, such as over-crowding on holiday weekends, excessive trash and lack of amenities to handle the large influx of visitors.

The development of designated campgrounds could alleviate some of those problems, Garcia said, and at the same time address another issue of concern for BLM and other law enforcement agencies in the Kern Valley, that of safety.

“Having so many people camping in one area creates a safety problem,” he said “We would have trouble getting emergency vehicles in the area and getting everyone out in the event of a fire would be a challenge.”

Funding for the plan is a few years out, Garcia said, adding that his agency will hopefully be able to add more restrooms and amenities during the second phase of the RMP implementation. “This is a huge issue, and we hope to address it in our second phase,” he said.

Phase II is also expected to take one to two years to implement. And, as the case with projects in the first phase, public meetings will be held to discuss the proposed plans of Phase II.

“The public has been helpful in the development of the RMP. We have gathered a lot of data as to what the public wants to see and we have pulled it together,” Garcia said. “This will not be an overnight fix. We are all hoping to see tangible results quickly, but it will take a couple of years to develop.”