By Mark Waite
The Southern Nevada Off Road Enthusiasts SNORE canceled an off-road race scheduled to take place in Nye County the last weekend of October due to the high cost charged by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
But off-road enthusiasts who worry such events may soon go by the wayside, can take solace knowing other events like the Vegas to Reno race continue.
“We attract the grass roots racers. We like to keep our entry fees low. We’re not in a position to pay extremely high BLM costs,” SNORE President Brittany Burgos said.
The BLM wanted to charge SNORE a cost recovery estimate of $47,000 for the SNORE Pahrump Nugget 250, more than their previous costliest race, the Mint 400, she said.
SNORE tried to involve Golden Gaming LLC, owners of the Pahrump Nugget, Gold Town and Lakeside casinos, even U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Burgos said. SNORE would lose $20,000 trying to stage the event, she said.
“If we go to racers and break even, that’s fine with us. But we’re not in a position to be putting on races for racers and losing thousands of dollars,” Burgos said. “The BLM had charged such a high cost recovery estimate to us and we had to pay it prior, we had 15 days to pay.”
The highest entry fee proposed for the event was $735. Burgos said. It was scheduled to be 50-mile loops beginning and ending close to Big Dune in Amargosa Valley, traveling almost as far north as the Beatty Airport Road.
The race was eventually moved to Primm, where it was staged over an eight-mile track on private land behind Buffalo Bill’s Casino. Race Director Kenny Freeman ended up moving three off-road races to Baja California.
“It was a huge change from what racers were expecting for the race that we were able to put on,” Burgos said of the new course. “For that event a lot of our racers enjoy going to Pahrump. So I had expected about 120 entries.”
Each racer brings an average of 10 to 15 people, she said, estimating it could have meant an economic impact of at least $3 million in the area.
Mark Sanchez, an outdoor recreation planner with the BLM Pahrump Field Office, said costs vary specifically with each off-road event; this was a new course that had to be surveyed. In this case there was about $5,000 in additional costs from 60 hours more of work to get through the environmental process.
“It’s expensive out there to run an event. That’s the bottom line. There’s a lot of interests out there. Everybody wants to be taken care of. Power line roads need to be graded,” Sanchez said. “We have to restore county roads, work with the county to get those roads restored to previous event conditions, but also preventing the public from the high speed vehicles on the race course. That ties back into law enforcement presence being out there. Some of the costs in the past have been because we’ve had something like nine road crossings, so NDOT requires an encroachment permit, then they have their requirements.”
Sanchez said he’s worked with off-road events dating back to the Terrible’s Town 250, which was moved to Primm in 2007 when Herbst Gaming acquired the three casinos there, ending a nine-year Pahrump run.
Sanchez said his office follows procedures set out in the U.S. Code, which requires a timeline for the public to file an appeal.
“We gave them a deadline. We even gave them a month after the deadline. They still didn’t meet that,” he said.
Off-road race organizers have 72 hours to fix any roads damaged during an event, Sanchez said. The BLM has to be there because of the desert tortoise, he said, wildlife biologists have to determine what kind of mitigation could be put in place for sharp turns that might disturb tortoise habitat. Then the Amargosa River is dry and has some cultural concerns that needed to be examined.
The National Business Center, which is a bank that handles payments for the BLM, increased its fees to process this from 17 percent to 18.4 percent, he said.
Sanchez said, “What I explained to SNORE, if we can get past this thing, I believe this is a course that can sustain use for the next five to 10 years without any problem. The first year the cost might be a little bit more, but not much more than average.”
Sanchez said the cost recovery estimate for the proposed SNORE Pahrump Nugget 250 wasn’t that much higher than the $44,000 SNORE was charged in September 2010, or the almost $43,000 paid for the Mint 400 in Las Vegas.
“We’re always looking to try to minimize the cost, but we have no control over people’s pay, the service center, their interest rates, their service fees might increase or decrease, we have no control over that route that’s been cleared,” Sanchez said. “If we didn’t have incidents and law enforcement is happy, those costs are going to come down to enforce the closure.”
Casey Folks, owner of Best In The Desert, the group that sponsors the annual Vegas to Reno race every August, used to begin the event in Johnnie, but eventually moved the starting point to the Spicer Ranch just north of Beatty, which he said is purposely located just north of the border of desert tortoise habitat. But Folks said the BLM fees for running a race on his 535-mile course, from Beatty to Dayton, just outside Carson City, are in the neighborhood of $65,000 to $68,000.
Sponsorship, television coverage and higher entry fees help pay for the higher cost, Folks said; it costs a racer $1,600 to enter the Vegas to Reno race. Nevertheless, 329 drivers signed up for this year’s Vegas to Reno race and Folks said no one complained about having to start in Beatty.
“An organization has to be capable of putting the event on. When you start talking long distance logistics, then you have to have a past record to say yes we can do that,” Folks said.
Best In The Desert puts on off-road races like the Silver State 300, The Mid 400, an event in Laughlin and the Parker 250. While attending a meeting in Parker, Ariz. last week, Folks said there was a large gathering of law enforcement officers, including a new representative from the state of California who witnessed a deadly off-road crash and was initially skeptical, but left the meeting impressed with the level of organization.
“With regards to the BLM I think somewhere in Washington some manager said, ‘let’s make it as hard as we can, as expensive as we can and these people will disappear.’ The local people, managers, resource management people will say to me, no that’s not true. They’re probably correct, they don’t feel that way. But somewhere along the line somebody said let’s make it expensive,” Folks said.
SNORE was going for a brand new race circuit, which requires biologists, archeologist and other experts to study the course, he said.
“They had a brand new loop. You have to pay big time to make that happen,” Folks said.
The preparation for the Vegas to Reno race involves hiring an 18-wheeler to haul a grader to blade hundreds of miles of course, he said, boasting the employees working the graders are all local, rural Nevadans.
Folks no longer undergoes bashing at county commission meetings like a few years ago for tearing up local roads. But he admitted with civilization encroaching on the Pahrump Valley they can forget about staging races out of there.
“They beat me up big time at a county commission meeting. I said I’ll just move it. If you guys can’t see the economic value of what I do, you’ve got to be blind, literally millions of dollars are spent in rural Nevada,” Folks said.
Beatty residents formerly complained about the Vegas to Reno race, Folks said he has a better rapport now that he donates money to the high school and volunteer fire department, David Spicer is also a big help.
Folks’ son, Daryl, formerly secured a permit for off-road motorcycle tours for Trac-On and all-terrain vehicle tours for Wide Open Nevada that was terminated in late 2010, but reinstated in January 2011. The district attorney said the permitting had to go through the sheriff’s department. When the permit for the two companies expired in August, 2011, he left Nye County.
Daryl Folks since has been staging his business in southern Nevada, but would like to show clients northern Nevada.
Earlier this year, Zero One Odyssey was given a permit to operate two and five-day off-road tours, traversing 90 to 220 miles per day through Nye, Esmeralda, Mineral, Churchill and Lander counties. Owners David Whitehead and Earl Desiderio target wealthier clients with annual average incomes of $200,000.
Among the conditions specified by the Tonopah BLM office: Drivers have to wait for mule deer or desert bighorn sheep to pass if they’re encountered. They have to avoid sage grouse leks during the March 1 to May 15 breeding season. Vehicles have to be washed afterwards to prevent any spread of noxious weeds. They have to yield to any mine traffic.