With a dramatic spike in usership over the past year, the Bureau of Land Management is finally drafting a management plan for Moon Rocks, a popular off-roading and party area north of Reno that has been largely unregulated.
“The BLM put themselves in this position. For 20 years it’s been a free for all,” Philip Fell, chairman of the Nevada OHV Commission, told the RGJ. “It’s a little bit Mad Max out there, especially over holiday weekends.”
Located in the Hungry Valley about 15 miles north of Reno off State Route 445 and Winnemucca Ranch Road, the Moon Rocks OHV riding area offers free off-road riding and camping. It attracts about 40,000 people per year – in 2020, an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 people visited the area on Memorial Day weekend alone.
The rise in Moon Rocks’ popularity was partly due to COVID-19 closures in neighboring states and areas, according to BLM Carson City District Manager Ken Collum.
“We saw a huge increase in visitation,” he said. “It’s a lot of people in a small area. We were kind of holding our breath on that one. So far, it’s worked out. But people are just kind of pulling out into the sagebrush and setting up shop, and more people pull into the area once they see the sagebrush is trampled … It’s close enough to the urban interface that we have concerns.”
The BLM is considering whether to manage the area as a developed recreation site, using funding received from the Nevada OHV Commission Grant Program, a program funded by the $21 annual fee off-road users pay.
The site would remain a free recreation area, but the BLM is considering improvements including adding restrooms and creating designated campsites.
BLM is also considering implementing speed limits near campsites and on access roads, establishing access points and a boundary for off-road activities and prohibiting alcohol while off-roading.
“There’s a lot of large underage drinking parties out there as well. You have that mixture of people using their OHVs and a 200-person high school party just down the road. There’s a lot of conflicting use out there,” said Logan Briscoe, BLM supervisory law enforcement ranger.
It’s not just BLM rangers who are responding to problems at the site.
Since January of 2020, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office has responded to more than 50 incidents in the area, including shootings, a stabbing, theft and a hit and run, according to WCSO Public Information Officer Sarah Johns.
In late 2019, Washoe County detectives located the remains of a 20-year-old Sparks man in the area after his car was left abandoned near Moon Rocks.
In late 2020, a 17-year-old girl was shot in the leg after stepping away from a party at “Big Wash” southwest of the Moon Rocks recreation area.
“Our people have been called out there quite a bit, especially in the past year,” said Johns.
Fell said he and many other users of the area support the proposal.
“From a user aspect, I’m in favor of the project,” said Fell, who said he’s seen an increase in people behaving poorly at the site. “This is the first step in managing the area like a true recreation area – like other OHV areas. It gives us the ability to maintain the trails instead of just watching them erode and degrade.”
The proposal updates the area’s travel management plan so that user groups can perform trail maintenance with BLM oversight, something that was illegal under the former travel management plan.
“We’ve just been butting our heads against the walls for years trying to do maintenance projects and not being allowed to and watching increased user traffic have a lot of environmental impacts,” he said.
Public comment on the future of Moon Rocks is being accepted through April 8. Written comments should be mailed to the BLM Carson City District, Sierra Front Field Office, Attn: Gerrit Buma, 5665 Morgan Mill Road, Carson City, NV 89701, or by email to email@example.com with Moon Rocks EA in the subject line.
Amy Alonzo covers the outdoors, recreation and environment for Nevada and Lake Tahoe. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (775) 741-8588. Here’s how you can support ongoing coverage and local journalism.