Bureau of Land Management
PO Box 237
Caliente, NV 89008
I have received your July 25 letter, and my camper, with signs notifying the public of the closure of Freedom Ridge and White Sides, has now been removed from public lands.
However, the problem with inadequate signs along the border of the new withdrawal area has not been resolved. On my last inspection a few days ago, there are no signs or obvious warning on the once-popular hiking trail to Freedom Ridge. This trail has been widely publicized in national periodicals and TV shows including specific hiking instructions in a national magazine ("The Nose," April 1994) and in previous versions of my "Area 51 Viewer's Guide." Anyone who follows these directions or any current map sold by the BLM will cross the border at an unmarked location and be detained, arrested and penalized. At least one party has already fallen victim to this trap, and there will be others unless some action is taken to properly mark the border.
The specific problem is this: Previously, visitors were instructed to park about 0.1 mi before the military border on Groom Lake Road, then follow the trail marked by yellow ribbons tied around Joshua trees. Although I have removed these ribbons, this action is not enough. Members of the security force had repeatedly removed these ribbons while the land was still public. Thus, my book and other wide-distributed publications provided instructions to visitors if the yellow ribbons were missing. Those instructions tell visitors to find the north-south border at or near the Groom Lake Road and simply follow it south for about a mile and a half.
If one follows those instructions today, there is no obvious indication that any withdrawal has taken place. Many of the original border markings, most notably the silver balls on posts, continue straight into the withdrawal area, and inside the new border the yellow ribbons for the old trail are still present because I am unable to enter the withdrawn area to remove them.
I am writing to you because I believe BLM is as responsible as the Air Force for assuring an orderly transition. It was the Dept. of the Interior, not the Air Force, which published the notice in the Federal Register and only BLM has provided any information to the public that the land has changed hands. Because this was once public land used by BLM clients, BLM has a responsibility to see that those clients are reasonably informed of the change.
I am not asking for a major effort here; just a single sign on the well-used hiking trail to Freedom Ridge and removal of the old trail markers inside the withdrawn area. Without this signage, intelligent visitors who have not read the Federal Register (99% of the population) will follow published instructions or their previous experience and cross the border without warning. Likewise, anyone following a current map, like the Nevada Land Use maps now sold officially by the BLM, will also cross the border without warning.
The logical way to resolve this problem is for the Air Force or BLM to place a warning or Restricted Area sign on the trail where is crosses into the new military area. This is about 1/4 mile south of where Groom Lake Road (AKA Groom Mine Road) passes into the military area. The problem area is at the junction of Sections 11, 12, 13 and 14 in R 56 E, T 7 S. When hiking along the border here, you see no obvious border markers except those consistent with the north-south border. At this junction, you can see yellow ribbons on Joshua trees in the distance and a silver ball in the distance consistent with the north-south border. An average, intelligent person will march ahead without stopping, and this has already happened to one group of trespassers who missed my camper and tried the hike shortly after the land changed hands.
Although most trespassers are merely fined, signs on other parts of the border warn that "use of deadly force is authorized." Because visitors might legally be killed if they crossed the line, efforts to prevent innocent civilians from crossing the border must not be taken lightly.
At the place where the trail crosses the new border, you see no orange posts in the east-west direction unless you are specifically looking for them. There is in fact an orange post about 75 yards to the east, but it is partially obscured by a rise, and you have to be looking very carefully in that direction to see it. Orange posts may fulfill the requirements of Nevada trespassing statute, NRS 207.200, but they are meaningless to anyone who has not read the NRS regulation--over 99% of the population. To the average, intelligent person, orange posts are meaningful only when a printed sign already indicates the orientation of the border at logical crossing points.
The Freedom Ridge trail, like any other hiking trail, has been established by use. Hundreds have hiked it, enough that you can see a worn trail in most places. It has been reported in my Viewer's Guide, which has sold over 3000 copies in its pre-withdrawal edition, and in published national magazine and newspaper articles. As part of the reasonable notification to the public of the withdrawal, this trail must be clearly marked.
The Air Force has never responded in any way to my requests for signage. The Air Force has no public "clients" like the BLM does; therefore, it cannot be expected to take any action responsive to public need without input from other agencies. Although this is now Air Force land, it is the responsibility of the BLM to assure an orderly transition and fair noticing to the public of the withdrawal.
Although I first notified you of this problem three months ago, the border is still not adequately marked. IF THE PROBLEM CANNOT BE RESOLVED SOON, I must request the following from BLM:
1) BLM must discontinue selling its two official land-use maps of Nevada. These show the old border in it straight north-south orientation. In the absence of adequate marking at the border, these maps are encouraging the public to cross the border, to be arrested and possibly killed.
2) You state in your July 25 letter: "I believe that adequate signing and notification has occurred to alert the public that the withdrawal and closure of the additional lands has occurred." Because the lives of visitors may be a stake, I must request that you provide the documented basis upon which you are making this assertion. How do you know that adequate signing has occurred?
3) I request that an employee of BLM visit this area, at the intersection of Sections 11, 12, 13 and 14, to report on whether adequate signage has taken place and whether deceptive indication remains from the previous border.
4) If adequate signage is not provided soon, I will feel obligated to return my camper to its place beside the Groom Lake Road, with my own signs attached, at least for the 14 out of 28 days I am entitled to under local regulations. Your letter of July 25 seems to indicate that I must be physically occupying the site to park my camper there. I must request, therefore, a complete written definition of what constitutes physical occupation, since this has not been made clear in the formal regulation. How many hours a day must I spend in the camper to be legally occupying it? By what means must I certify to BLM my physical occupation of the camper? Is there a form to fill out, or will a BLM Ranger inspect my camper for occupation? Am I obligated to answer the door of the camper if the Ranger knocks on it, and if I refuse, does this constitute non-occupation?
I want as much as anyone to lay this withdrawal to rest and move on to other things, but I cannot relax as long as I know that innocent visitors are going to lured to disaster on a trail that I myself have publicized. In previous versions of my Viewers Guide, I assured the public that when the land was closed, the new borders will be clearly marked. I cannot disengage from this battle until that promise is kept.
cc: AF/DOE Liaison Office Internet WWW Local Press, where appropriate