Madera County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved continuing studies on a proposed 956-acre off-highway vehicle park in O’Neals after Native American sites were discovered in recent weeks.
The potential park, stretching from the northern boundary of Minarets High School to east of Highway 41 across from Black Hawk Lodge, has drawn some public criticism for potential effects on traffic and noise for nearby landowners.
Another issue is effects to the environment and Native American artifacts on the site, and was the sole topic discussed on Sept. 20.
Bill Hayter, the county’s grant writer, began by outlining how the county would provide $21,147 - alongside $60,268 from state grants - from its $65,000 Development Impact Fees fund towards an ecological survey of the property for species such as birds, bats, and plants.
The survey is expected to take about four months, Hayter said.
He said on Sept. 16, county staff walked the site with representatives from both the Chukchansi and Mono tribes, the two he said historically occupied the area, along with an archaeologist to review tribal locations the county had found.
“We did not catch everything,” Hayter said, noting additional sites were found.
Their locations are being kept confidential, Chief Administrative Officer Eric Fleming said, per a tribal representative’s request in order to keep them safe from potential vandals.
In public comment, several speakers noted their concerns that the tribal sites would be threatened by quads and other all-terrain vehicles as proposed.
“Once the integrity of these rock croppings, of these mountains are jeopardized, we no longer have the ability to go back in history and rewrite them, or re-record them,” said Nokomis Hernandez, member of the Chukchansi tribal council. “There’s very delicate drawings and pictographs in these areas that cannot be reproduced.”
Some supervisors assured Hernandez they would bring tribal members in on the process. But others from the public were against the park entirely.
“Please don’t do this,” Dale Drozen said. “This is a god-awful money pit that’s going to be sucking on Madera County’s general fund as long as you’re around, and as long as the people after you are around.”
Supervisor David Rogers of District 2 disagreed, and said the park - envisioned as a haven for motocross and other off-road sports under direction of a private business - was desired by many in the community.
“We’ve never fostered this kind of park activity, and there’s a lot of people who want to do that,” said Rogers, adding he owns a quad vehicle. “A lot of citizens in Madera County would like a place to be able to do this kind of activity.”
The proposed park is far in its infancy stages, and officials say it will likely be years before trail designs or other developments can begin to take shape.
Hayter noted while including the environmental survey, further studies will need to be done on traffic, noise, and other issues voiced by critics before the county would know what land can be developed for trails and other work.