When Ft. Ord recreation is outlawed, only outlaws will recreate at Ft. Ord
Rather than cracking down on the Keep Fort Ord Wild (KFOW) activists they accuse of trespassing, the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA), borrowing its political strategy from the jelly donut scene in Full Metal Jacket, is threatening to punish thousands of other Ft. Ord wildland users by “cutting off public access” to Ft. Ord “entirely.”
The basic story is familiar to anyone who follows the local press …
Some veterans cleaned up an old exercise track near Gigling and 8th Ave. on the former Fort Ord, and hung up a sign proclaiming the place “Soldiers Memorial Field,” in honor of the common soldier. FORA, no doubt irritated by people making a shrine of land slated for development, and seeing what looked like an opportunity to score some PR points against their enemies at KFOW (at least one of the vets is also a KFOW activist), immediately started having kittens about how awful it was that KFOW was trespassing in a closed area full of unexploded munitions, how people could have been killed, etc.
Then FORA ran out and put up a bunch of new No Trespassing and Unexploded Ordnance Warning signs around the place, complained about KFOW’s trespassing to the EPA, and managed to elicit an EPA letter apparently threatening to “cut off public access entirely if recreationists don’t stick to designated trails.” Unlike many documents, which have to be dragged out of FORA with lawsuits, this letter was posted prominently on their website and gleefully shopped around to the media; together with a bunch of rhetoric about the “actions of a few” endangering access for “rest of us” and so forth.
New signs hastily placed by FORA following the vets’ action
This leaves the inquiring minds at Xasáuan Today wondering about a couple of things:
1) If FORA and the EPA really intend to “cut off public access entirely,” punishing thousands of Ft. Ord recreational users (and the local businesses that serve them) for the actions of a few, and limiting Ft. Ord recreation to scofflaws only, how, exactly will they do that? They can’t very well close the BLM land, which isn’t under their jurisdiction, and the land they do control, according to the maps on their website, is already entirely closed to the public (with the exception of a few roads that provide access to other areas – and they can’t very well close those).
Then we actually read the EPA letter and found that when it gets down to specifics, all they’re really threatening to close are “trails.” If anyone knows of any trail on FORA controlled land that FORA currently considers to be open, please let us know. We couldn’t find any on their map. Maybe what FORA means is that they’ll start actually putting up signs and kicking people off the many already “officially” closed trails on FORA lands that have been seeing heavy public use for almost 20 years without a problem. We don’t see what else it could possibly mean.
A heavily used trail leaves a designated parking area for Ft. Ord backcountry users and heads off onto officially closed FORA land. Not a No Trespassing or Unexploded Ordnance warning sign to be seen. In the 5 minutes we were there today, we saw 5 cyclists and 3 hikers start up this trail – just as they’ve been doing for nearly 20 years. Will FORA’s effort at collective punishment mean attempting actual closure of trails like this one?
2) How is it that the old track cleaned up by the veterans came to be considered a hazardous unexploded ordnance area? The vets tell us the track was in use by soldiers right up to the closing of Ft. Ord, and we can say from extensive personal mountain biking and botanizing experience that, in contrast to actual munitions impact areas (which have always been carefully signed and even fenced), the track and surrounding areas were very much open to the public right after Ft. Ord closed – and remained open and heavily used for many years thereafter. The army, in fact, retained title to the property until 2007, and seems to have seen no problem with public use.
In 2007, the property was transferred to FORA and became, officially anyway, “closed,” although heavy public use appears to have continued without any effort on the part of FORA to stop it. Then, in 2009, the property was, no doubt at considerable public expense, actually swept for unexploded munitions. Yet, three years later, it still remains officially closed.
So, at some point, did someone realize that a terrible mistake had been made and that the area really did somehow contain unexploded ordnance that had been endangering the public all along without anyone noticing it? And, if so, why didn’t they put up real warning signs or make any serious effort to get the public out of harms way?
Or did someone, at some point, realize that clearing ordnance, especially in places that don’t actually contain it, is pretty lucrative and get the “hazard” areas creatively expanded?
And why, if it’s already been swept, is it still considered hazardous? If it’s just a matter of finishing the paperwork, as some have suggested, why all the histrionics about the danger the vets were subjecting themselves to?
If FORA has answers to these questions, it sure would be nice if they’d share them with the public. Otherwise, it’s going to be difficult to convince people that the real reason the area is closed doesn’t have something to do with the fact that it’s the site of the proposed Monterey Downs luxury horse park development and traversed by the controversial Eastside Parkway.*
Coast live oaks (quercus agrifolia) in the path of the Eastside Parkway are marked to be cut. The veterans’ track can be seen in the background.
Eastwood’s Golden Fleece or Goldenbush (Ericameria fasciculata), a very rare plant that grows ONLY in northern Monterey County and only in limited numbers – some of which have the misfortune of growing in the way of the Eastside Parkway. Click here to learn more about the remarkable Alice Eastwood, for whom the plant is named. You’ll be glad you did.
Walkers stroll along the veterans’ newly cleared track after passing FORA’s new warning signs without apparent concern. The hillside and trees in the background are slated to fall to the Eastside Parkway. The track itself lies in the area proposed for the Monterey Downs development. It would be safe to say that FORA’s claims of unexploded ordnance hazards here lack credibility with the public.
* “Parkway” is a technical land use planning term. It refers to any sufficiently controversial freeway or other large road proposed in a pristine and environmentally sensitive area (e.g. “Hatton Canyon Parkway”). See also “Golf Trail.”