Getting to the Juniper Dunes Wilderness always has been a tricky path to travel.
For years, we’ve advocated for public access that has minimal impact on local landowners but preserves the people’s right to use the land.
Visitors to Juniper Dunes have had to pass “No Trespassing” signs to get to the dunes via Peterson Road, parts of which are privately owned.
Landowners and the motorcycle and ATV riders who frequent the sand dunes often were at odds over access. Some ungrateful users would speed down the road, cut fences or remove barricades from the private sections, trespass and leave garbage on private land, making a headache for the landowners and jeopardizing access for more respectful visitors.
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Access has been an issue since the entire 19,600-acre area was declared wilderness in 1984, with no clear solution.
The problem is limited to visitors to the 3,920 acres of wilderness area that are open to off-highway vehicles.
Equestrians and hikers also use Peterson Road for access to the land.
But now Franklin County finally is making progress toward a permanent solution. The Bureau of Land Management, which has jurisdiction over Juniper Dunes, is working to help Franklin County purchase and improve part of Peterson Road. And the BLM has some money to put toward the project. About $700,000 was secured for the project with help from newly re-elected Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
Franklin County thinks it could cost $1 million to pave those first two miles of road and will have a more solid figure once the bids have been received.
But the top priority is to provide legal access to Juniper Dunes by purchasing the road, and the paving is a secondary concern.
With more than 32,000 visitors to the wilderness area each year, it’s easy to see why the use of the private road has been an issue for landowners who had to pay to maintain it.
Several representatives of four-wheel drive groups turned out to hear the plan at a recent meeting and put their support behind the project, acknowledging that public access to the road will take a burden off the landowners.
And while the project is a good start, it does not solve the entire issue. Two more miles of road remain before reaching Juniper Dunes, with a mix of public and private land along the route.
Let’s hope for a speedy conversion of the entire route to a public road.
In the meantime, the cooperative efforts and respectful behavior of all visitors will go a long way toward ensuring the public’s long-term access to Juniper Dunes.