The California state parks system is planning to turn 3,400 acres of ecologically sensitive and historically significant wilderness into a motorcycle park.
So much for the parks systems working to protect and preserve the environment and wildlife!
The site is the Tesla wilderness southeast of Livermore and is adjacent to the 1,300-acre Carnegie State Vehicular Recreational Area, one of eight designated recreational areas where people can ride motorcycles, ATVs and other vehicles. Not surprisingly, off-road enthusiasts are, well, enthusiastic about the plan, which state officials are already at a midway point in devising. As Jerry Fouts of the American Motorcycle Association says to SFGate.com, “There’s fewer and fewer places to ride. Environmentalists have the upper hand, and we know that. No one likes to recreate on screwed-up land.”
Far from being “screwed-up,” the Tesla site — steep and rugged territory in the southeast hills between Livermore and Tracy — is the habitat for several endangered species, as well as mountain lions, snakes, hawks and tule elk. The area also contains forests of native oaks and seasonal creeks. John Icanberry, a retired biologist for the U.S. Field and Wildlife Service who lives in the area, says off-road vehicles break up landscapes and destroy habitats. The damage could take centuries to undo as the vehicles ”crush underground animal burrows, flatten vegetation and disrupt wildlife” and, because they destroy soil, cause erosion and reduce the quality of the air and water.
More People Visit Parks to Hike Than to Ride Off-Road Vehicles
SFGate.com cites a 2007 study by the U.S. Geological Survey that found “diverse and potentially profound” harm done to soil, watersheds and habitats and refers to the Carnegie area — parts of which now lack vegetation and are “barren” — as an example. Randy Caldera, Carnegie’s acting superintendent, contends that the it will not be a “free-for-all” in a new park including Tesla. Other off-road advocates contend that, by having a larger off-road vehicle area, motorcyclists and others will be spread over a larger area and have less of an impact on the environment (maybe, but they will certainly have some). They also say the area is necessary due to growing popularity in extreme sports and the lack of such a place in the Bay Area.
However, as SFGate.com notes, usage of Carnegie is actually in decline: 144,000 people visited it in 2003 and 92,000 in 2008. About 900 to 1,000 people currently visit per weekend — but about twice as many people visit the Diamond Mines Regional Preserve near Antioch to hike and picnic.
Historical Significance of the Tesla Wilderness
In addition, the Tesla site (named after the electrical engineer who played a key role in developing alternating current) is of historical significance. For the Ohlone and other Native American tribes, the area provided an efficient route between the Bay Area and the Central Valley. The Anza trail, through which about 200 Spanish soldiers and their families made their way to the Bay Area, runs through the Tesla site. In the late 1800s through the early 1900s, Tesla and Carnegie were the names of thriving mining towns in the hills.
What is the California State Parks System Really Up To?
The California State Parks system actually purchased the Tesla property in 1998 when it had reverted back to its natural state and primarily served as an area for cattle to graze in.
The reason for expanding the Carnegie area to include the Tesla seems to be based on how the system’s finances are controlled, says SFGate.com:
State parks officials’ rationale for expanding Carnegie is that the California Public Resource Code mandates the expansion of the state’s off-road recreational facilities. Money for the expansion is coming from the off-road division’s own special fund, which draws its revenue from off-road park entrance fees, surcharges paid by off-road vehicle owners and other sources. In 2012-13, that fund contained about $67 million.
Those funds can legally be used only for off-road parks and recreation, such as the expansion of Carnegie, even though the parks department’s budget problems have threatened other parks with closure.
The East Bay Regional Park District actually sought to buy Tesla or manage it for the state in 2008. But in October, California’s Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission accused the park district of interfering with the state system.
A report about the environmental impact of turning Tesla into a motorcycle park is to be completed by the end of 2013.
“I Know How Special and Unique This Area Is,” Says Long-Time Resident
Celeste Garamendi’s husband’s family has run a cattle ranch near Tesla for more than a century. As she says to SFGate.com, “I can’t imagine how we as a state can allow this area to be destroyed, just as the Carnegie area has been destroyed. I live in this area. I work in this area. I know how special and unique this area is.”
I can’t agree with Garamendi more. I still remember the landscape around Livermore as one of burnt yellow hills and cattle seeking shade under whatever tree they could find; as an area with a certain rugged beauty. After some three decades, I was in Livermore last summer and was shocked at how suburbanized it has become, with a golf course, rows of chain stores, hotels and plots of tract homes and condos. That is, the area looked like so many other parts of suburban, strip mall California (and Missouri, and New Jersey, and other places I’ve lived). Turning Tesla into a motorcycle park can only further destroy a place that is emblematic of California’s nature.
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Photo by sfbaywalk