National Park Service eyes new development to add services, reduce impacts
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — A draft wilderness and backcountry stewardship plan for 3.4-million-acre Death Valley National Park tries to balance preservation of natural and cultural resources with recreational access, with “a wider range of visitor experiences and opportunities in specific locations,” than currently available.
Death Valley is the largest national park in the continuous 48 states and has been designated as an International Biosphere Reserve. More than 90 percent (3.1 million acres) of the park is designated wilderness.
The draft plan is open for public comment through Oct. 9, with the environmental study (four alternatives) and maps online at
The plan addresses management of all Congressionally-designated wilderness lands in the park. It also includes non-wilderness backcountry concerns, such as backcountry road corridors and campsites, backcountry cabins near roads, and non-wilderness backcountry lands. The plan does not address developed or frontcountry areas within the park, nor does it address the Saline Valley Warm Springs area.
The National Park Service preferred alternative envisions a modest amount of additional development along paved and unpaved maintained road corridors for visitors who want to experience the wilderness and backcountry but may need additional services and facilities. The additional development is proposed as a way of addressing existing and anticipated impacts.
The agency would expand services in a managed 202,000-acre “backcountry exploration zone” for visitors who may need guidance and who don’t have the specialized equipment (e.g. high ground clearance 4-wheel-drive vehicles) to access other areas of the park.
The alternative includes 410 miles of maintained roads and 590 miles of non-maintained roads.
From the alternative summary in the draft environmental assessment:
“The majority of the wilderness, backcountry, and backcountry roads would be managed for self-directed exploration as well as self-reliant travel. Currently unacceptable visitor impacts and those impacts anticipated to manifest in the near future are proactively addressed through specific visitor use actions, including facilities and administrative tools. All agency requirements for the administration of wilderness and backcountry lands and operations are addressed.”
Death Valley National Monument was designated by a presidential proclamation on February 11, 1933. The 1994 California Desert Protection Act enlarged the park to its present size and designated 91 percent of the park as wilderness, totaling 3,102,456 acres. Another 220,000 acres is undeveloped backcountry lands with a network of more than 1,000 miles of pre-existing backcountry dirt road corridors.
Several public meetings are planned in communities near the park, including Lone Pine, California (Aug. 21, Statham Hall, 138 Jackson Street) and in Beatty, Nevada (Aug. 23, Beatty Community Center, 100 A Avenue South).
Written comments can be sent to: Superintendent, Death Valley NP, ATTN: Wilderness Plan Comments, P.O. Box 579, Death Valley, CA 92328.
For more information about this planning process, contact Park Environmental Protection Specialist Mike Cipra at 760-786-3227.