Photo by The U.S. Bureau of Land Management
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How the Cow Mountain Recreation Area Deal Went Down

A 15-year Effort Finally Pays Off

Off-road motorcyclists in northern California have a lot to celebrate with the recent acquisition of the 1,391-acre Blue Oak Ranch, which will provide much-needed public access to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s South Cow Mountain OHV Recreation Area. The area is managed by the BLM’s Ukiah Field Office.

The South Cow Mountain OHV Recreation Area is in the Mayacamas Mountains east of Ukiah, Calif. The area offers views of Ukiah and Lake County and includes pockets of old-growth fir, several species of oak, willows, more than 30 miles of streams, 13 reservoirs and habitat for blacktail deer, bear, wild turkey and other species.

The acquisition from ranch owner Craig Blencowe was made possible via partnership funding from the California State Park Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division Grants Program and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Blencowe’s family was ready to move on from the ranch, and they wanted it used for OHV recreation at Cow Mountain.

Both the AMA and the Motorcycle Industry Council lobbied officials in Washington, D.C., to support this acquisition and provide funding for it.

One of the most significant aspects of the acquisition is that it will provide easy access from a paved highway for travel trailers and RVs. There also will be a significant number of new camping opportunities and other facilities that will serve a wide range of OHV activities, including a much-needed staging area for AMA-sanctioned events.

What makes this acquisition historic is that it was accomplished with significant fiscal support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program that supports the protection and conservation of public lands. It also funds projects to improve public access to important recreational opportunities.

This LWCF-funded purchase is a rarity, because it made a significant investment to improve a designated OHV area. Historically, LWCF recreation grants have mostly gone to nonmotorized projects.

Fortunately, in recent years OHV recreation representatives on the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable in Washington, D.C., and other trail advocates have championed the use of LWCF monies for motorized projects.

Another important factor in this acquisition saga is the strong collaboration over a period of almost 15 years among the ranch owner, the recreation community, California State Parks and the BLM to see this purchase succeed for the betterment of the recreation community and local economy.

The protracted undertaking was caused by:

  • The complicated and time consuming property acquisition process;
  • The Trump administration’s halting of the acquisition until it had time to review it;
  • The 2018 wildfire season, which reduced staff’s capacity to process the transaction; and
  • In late 2019, the California OHV grant funds for the project got “lost” in the state bureaucracy. (It was “found” in early 2020 so the deal finally got done.)

The South Cow Mountain OHV Recreation Area consists of about 23,000 acres of federal land where OHV recreation was specifically identified by Congress as a prescribed use in 2006 through the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Act.

The area has about 100 miles of designated routes that offer various ranges of difficulty that are enjoyed by beginners to experts. The trail system provides high quality opportunities for users of all vehicle types, including dirt bikes, ATVs, side-by-sides and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

There are several developed camping and staging areas with access functionally limited to cars and trucks towing small OHV trailers. Travel trailers and RVs are discouraged from using the area, due to the narrow, steep and winding access roads.

Each spring, the BLM permits two AMA District 36 events hosted by the North Bay Motorcycle Club: the Sawmill Enduro and the Crosscut Family Enduro.

According to the BLM, the area was identified and all analysis conducted under the title of the “Cow Mountain Management Area” in the BLM Ukiah Resource Management Plan Record of Decision September 2006. Within a month of the signing of the ROD, the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Act, U.S. Public Law 109-362, was signed, changing the name to the Cow Mountain Recreation Area, which includes the South Cow Mountain OHV Management Area and the North Cow Mountain Recreation Area. The BLM noted the acquisition would be in conformance with the management plan.

I know that AMA members and local riders look forward to working with the BLM as the agency develops a management plan that will improve access to the network of sustainable OHV trails for current and future generations.

Don Amador is an AMA Charter Life Member from Oakley, Calif., president of Quiet Warrior Racing and government affairs lead for AMA District 36.

Photo by The U.S. Bureau of Land Management