Feds say Franklin County will need to prove area would be popular to get $1.05 million grant
Federal officials made it clear Monday that Franklin County will have to prove the Juniper Dunes Recreation Area is popular with visitors if it hopes to get $1.05 million to build an access road at the site.
“Talk about the kind of use the project gets now and the kind of use it could get in the future,” said Greg Humphreys, transportation planner for the Federal Highway Administration’s Federal Lands Access Program, during a meeting outside a fire station close to the site.
The contingent of 20 county, state and federal officials braved blowing tumbleweeds and made their way to the top of a hill overlooking the 19,600-acre Juniper Dunes area Monday afternoon.
The officials were there to review access to the area, which can now be reached only by a private road, which has a large “keep out” sign at the entrance. Juniper Dunes is one of 37 sites in Washington competing for $27 million in funding from the Federal Lands Access Program over two years.
Representatives from the county and the federal Bureau of Land Management, which operates Juniper Dunes and has committed $716,000 of its own money to the project, said the site sees more than 30,000 visitors a year and would get more with a proper road.
County commissioner Brad Peck said many people stay away from Juniper Dunes when they see the “no trespassing” sign, so the number of visitors would greatly increase if access were improved.
“Our numbers for use are artificially low because a lot of people respect the law and don’t trespass,” he said. “I think if we had a road, the numbers would jump dramatically.”
Of the sites under consideration for federal money, three have proposals that scored high with the federal criteria and are likely to be funded. Though he didn’t name which sites, Bill Leonard, state Department of Transportation environmental manager, said Juniper Dunes is one of about a dozen sites needing further review. The remaining sites are considered less likely to be funded.
“There’s no decision that has been made,” he said. “They want to see how creative we can get.”
When Peck asked if it might help for the county to kick in more local funding, Humphreys said that certainly wouldn’t hurt.
“We’re giving people an opportunity to build up their applications within the next month,” he said.
A final decision on which projects will be awarded federal dollars will be made by the end of June, Humphreys said. While the county had been planning to build the 4.2-mile road itself, Humphreys said the Federal Lands Access Program is also capable of designing and building the road on its own.
Juniper Dunes is broken into a 3,920-acre area for off-highway vehicles, a 7,100-acre wilderness, where no vehicles or bicycles are allowed and an 8,620-acre “area of critical environmental concern,” access to which is under review.
Doug Conner of Pasco, a member of the Eastern Washington Dirt Riders Association, said he has been coming to Juniper Dunes since the early 1970s and sees people from Canada to California riding there. He said there is no place for off-road motorcycling in the region like the sand dunes.
“I don’t care whether they fix the road or not; I want legal access,” he said.
Along with cars and dirt bikes, the dunes also are popular with horseback riders and hikers.
Commission Chairman Rick Miller said he felt the meeting went well.
“It’s good for them to see the project,” he said. “This is great for tourism. As we grow bigger, more people are going to come.”
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: GeoffFolsom