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FILE PHOTO: DAILY PRESS
Thousands of spectators watch the Griffin King of the Hammers event at one of a several popular sections of the race. Public use, which brings an estimated 30,000 visitors, are at risk as the Marines consider an expansion to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center.

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Marines want to head west

Expansion could take over much of Johnson Valley

The U.S. Marine Corps will push forward with its plan to expand the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms into a popular off-highway vehicle area after a Record of Decision was approved this week by the Department of the Navy.

The 108,530-acre expansion will overtake much of the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area, located about 20 miles east of Lucerne Valley, which is one of the premier destinations in the country for off-roading enthusiasts.

Congress would still have to approve the decision to expand, and the President Barack Obama would have to sign off on it.

Dave Cole, organizer and co-founder of the popular King of the Hammers race, said the expansion would put an end to the race, potentially devastating local economies, while forcing off-road enthusiasts to find recreation places elsewhere.

“Outdoor enthusiasts aren’t going anywhere,” Cole said. “They’re still going to ride and hike and camp. Let them do it on land that’s public. Let them do it legally because (otherwise) they’ll do it illegally.”

U.S. Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Nicholas C. Mannweiler referred the Daily Press’ request for comment to the base website at www.29palms. marines.mil, but a link to the Record of Decision was not available on that site Thursday evening.

If the acquisition goes through, Cole said his last year to hold King of the Hammers will be next year. In a previous email to the Daily Press, Mannweiler said the Marines “intend to begin training on newly acquired lands by early 2014.”

Cole said he believes he’ll have the support of local congressmen, including Paul Cook, Howard P. “Buck” McKeon and Kevin McCarthy. Cole said Cook, who hails from Yucca Valley, is a staunch supporter of their efforts, and that Cook’s biggest concern was the lack of fencing and notification around the training area.

“There’s no fencing or signs around the current (training area), either,” Cole said. “And their budget doesn’t call for a fence. And that’s a livefire zone.”

The Marines have decided on a plan known as Alternative 6, which would permanently take over a large portion of the OHV area while leaving a smaller portion for shared use, with training exercises taking place for two months out of the year.

“Alternative 6 was specifically created with the interests of the OHV community in mind,” Mannweiler wrote in a previous email to the Daily Press. “The preferred alternative isn’t the best one for meeting our needs, but it allows the Marine Corps to meet our training requirements and still allows the public to utilize Johnson Valley when it’s not being used for our (training) exercises — two times a year for a month.”

Cole said this option reminds him of a comment he heard in regard to Alternative 6: “It’s like we’re going to share Disneyland, but we’re only giving you the parking lot.”

Lynnea Lombardo may be reached at (760) 951-6232 or at LLombardo@VVDailyPress.com.

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