January 29, 2014
By Benét J. Wilson
The fight to save California’s Chicken Strip, an uncharted 1,350-foot dirt strip that provides fly-in access to the warm springs area of Death Valley National Park, continues. The National Park Service is seeking public input to help inform and shape alternatives for a management plan and environmental impact statement for the area near the strip.
In July 2012, AOPA and the Recreational Aviation Foundation weighed in on the park service’s scoping notice for the Saline Valley Management Plan. More than 500 comments were submitted, which led to the creation of the National Park Service's five alternatives. Under four of the five alternatives, the Chicken Strip Airstrip is kept open, while in the last, it is removed. The alternatives are no action, minimum management, community engagement, recreation management, and restoration.
The no action alternative would continue the current management of the area with no changes. Minimum management would retain much of the current management of the area (no action alternative), while ensuring compliance with applicable public health regulations and the superintendent’s compendium.
The community engagement alternative would engage user groups in management of the area to provide visitors with the types of experiences they currently value, while working cooperatively to protect park resources and ensure compliance with applicable public health regulations and the superintendent’s compendium. Agreements would be developed between the park and user groups to identify responsibilities for water quality monitoring, maintenance of facilities, maintenance of the airstrip, and protection of park resources.
Under the recreation management alternative, recreational activities would still be allowed at Saline Valley with some restrictions (including the superintendent’s compendium), and more management responsibilities being borne by paid park staff. Activities that are currently carried out by the camp hosts and user groups would be the sole responsibility of paid park staff under this alternative.
Finally, the goal of the restoration alternative would be to restore the springs as close as possible to their natural condition, with no or minimal development. The tubs and associated infrastructure would be removed, as would the airstrip. Camping would continue to be permitted but would be more restricted. This plan would require extensive park staff support during implementation for education, enforcement, and restoration activities.
“While the community engagement alternative provides the best option for the airstrip, AOPA is reviewing the alternatives and will submit comments to the record. We will continue to work with the NPS and the Recreational Aviation Foundation to ensure the strip remains open,” said AOPA Manager of Airport Policy John Collins. “Meanwhile, AOPA encourages members who use Chicken Strip to review the alternatives and then comment via the online form.”
The National Park Service is also asking for comments at three public meetings in February in Death Valley, Lone Pine, and Ridgecrest, Calif., from Feb. 4 through 6. Specific times and places are online.
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