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Compromise desirable in road closure
Recreational users of the Imperial Sand Dunes are accustomed to public interests interfering with their use of the popular area, but now a private interest has become an issue.
Union Pacific Railroad is planning on closing off access to a dirt road it owns in the dunes. The road is known as Wash Road and runs along the railroad's tracks for about six miles in the area where they intersect with Highway 78. It is used by the railroad for maintenance purposes.
Although the road is owned by the railroad, it has commonly also been used by the public - with the support of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management - to access popular camping locations in that area that are otherwise difficult to reach.
That will be coming to an end soon, much to the distress of recreational users of the area, when the railroad fences off the road. Off-roaders have protested to the BLM, which oversees the public area, and to the railroad.
Although their unhappiness is understandable, especially since the BLM has supported use of the road for years, the desire of the Union Pacific to fence it off to public access is also understandable.
There are concerns about railroad liability, especially since two youths riding an ATV were killed there in 2007 when they ignored a signaling device and were hit by a train. A railroad spokesperson also says use of the road by off-roaders puts a lot of sand on the tracks which accelerates wear and tear on them, increasing the need for maintenance.
There are alternative out-of-the-way means to get to the camping areas, according to an American Sand Association spokesperson, but not all vehicles can use them. They would like Union Pacific to either allow continued access or for BLM to build another road.
It seems to us a compromise is desirable here.
Perhaps the railroad would be willing to temporarily allow continued public access if a way was found to protect it from liability and with BLM's assurance it would build another access route within a limited time frame.
If those conditions are met, it should satisfy the needs of all involved, including recreational users of the area.