Hands off the dunes, off-roaders tell county

Most off-road riders see the Nellis Dunes as a 10,000-acre playground and Clark County as the killjoy parent who wants to spoil their fun.

Off-road enthusiasts voiced concerns -- and fears -- at a forum Wednesday about the county's effort to take over from the Bureau of Land Management the dunes northeast of Las Vegas, not far from the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Of the more than 50 people who attended the forum, most seemed skeptical, even suspicious, about the county's vision for a venue that would offer multiple tracks for varying skill levels and a large, open area for unrestricted riding.

Some asked pointed questions, while others slammed the county's history of land management.

"Every time the county puts its hand in something, we lose something," said Steve Alexander, 48, who has ridden off-road since the early 1970s.

He talked of how the county has barred off-road riding in several places it took over, including in Eldorado Valley.

Michael Popp, the county's senior planning analyst, tried to assure the audience that the chief goal was to improve the dunes as a recreation area.

The county can better police the dunes, ensure riders' safety, curb dust from vehicles and protect rare plants, he said.

Popp also argued that the dunes would be better preserved under the county's care. The city of North Las Vegas wants to extend its boundaries into the dunes and open it for development, possibly heavy industrial, Popp said.

"This is not a site that is protected," he said. He added that the BLM is under pressure to sell off land each year.

Wednesday's forum at the County Commission chambers was the second of three that the BLM is hosting this week to get feedback from the public.

The final one will be today in Henderson, from 6 to 8 p.m. in Grand Ballroom B at the Henderson Convention Center, 200 S. Water St.

Congress will have the final say about whether the land is transferred to the county.

Popp, himself an off-roader, said he sympathized with riders wanting to keep things the same. But with a county of 2 million people comes a variety of riding needs that don't mesh well without some organization, he said.

Several residents said that they had nothing against Popp, who seemed to be one of them, but that they distrusted higher-ranking leaders.

"The people above you make the decisions," said Debbie Burgos, 48.

Years ago, the county shut down skateboard parks because of lawsuits, Burgos said. It also began developing large-scale parks 15 years ago that are now only a fraction of the way finished, she said.

Steve Abbott, 45, questioned why the county wants to come in, uninvited, and build tracks on land where everyone rides unrestricted.

"Commercial development," Abbott said, answering his own question.

But Popp said the dunes' proximity to Nellis Air Force Base would limit development there, in part because the area is near low-flying zones.

He said he understood people's distrust in government but insisted that Congress would impose tight restrictions on how the land is used.

"We're asking the Congress of the United States to restrict this land forever," Popp said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or (702) 455-4519.