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Saline Valley Warm Springs Management Plan Update

Record of Decision for the Saline Valley Warm Springs Plan

DEATH VALLEY, CA – The National Park Service announces the availability of the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Saline Valley Warm Springs Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (plan/EIS). The Record of Decision outlines the agency’s actions for managing visitor use, natural resources, cultural resources, and facilities at this backcountry site.

The selected alternative will allow for the continued recreational use of the warm springs, while balancing the protection of natural resources and historic and ethnographic values. The selected alternative incorporates community engagement through Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with interested organized groups.

Saline Valley Warm Springs are located in a remote northwest corner of Death Valley National Park, 35 miles from the closest paved road. The springs have been important to the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe since time immemorial. Recreational users developed soaking tubs and art installations starting in the 1950s. The site was managed by the Bureau of Land Management until it was transferred to NPS with the California Desert Protection Act in 1994.

The NPS started working on a management plan for the site in 2012. Inyo County, the BLM, and the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe participated in the plan as cooperating agencies. Several organizations were heavily involved in providing comments, including the Saline Preservation Association and Recreation Aviation Foundation.

The National Park Service posted the completed Saline Valley Warm Springs plan/EIS on May 10. The Record of Decision is the formal approval of the plan and makes it effective as of June 14.

Scotty’s Castle Projects Pass Environmental Assessment

DEATH VALLEY, CA – The National Park Service (NPS) has completed its final environmental reviews of proposed projects to repair flood damage at Scotty’s Castle. Meanwhile, work has already started on projects approved earlier. The popular historic site could be partially open by late 2020 and is expected to be fully open by late 2021.

A severe flash flood on the night of October 18, 2015 sent water, mud, and rocks rushing down Grapevine Canyon. The flood broke through the walls of the historic Garage, in use by the NPS as the site’s visitor center, and filled it with four feet of debris. Two other historic buildings were damaged by the flood. The main house escaped the path of the flood, but bore lesser damage from water intrusion from heavy rain.

The NPS prepared two environmental assessments (EAs), each of which addressed different proposed actions to repair flood-damaged infrastructure in Grapevine Canyon. The Bonnie Clare Road Reconstruction EA was finalized in May 2018, and approved proposals to reconstruct 7.6 miles of Bonnie Clare Road, install 4,000 feet of waterline under the road, reconstruct damaged portions of the historic concrete and wire fence, and stabilize the historic bridge and gatehouse.

Road and Highway Builders started work in December 2018 on all four of these projects under contract managed by Federal Highways Administration.

The Scotty’s Castle Flood Rehabilitation EA was finalized on March 12, 2019. Some proposed actions approved in this EA include repairing historic structures, replacing components utility systems, building a second public restroom, building flood control structures, and building a cooling tower for a replacement heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) system. This EA completes the legal requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), but each project will need additional review to meet requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

The National Park Service cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage. “This is where things can get tricky,” said Abby Wines, spokesperson for Death Valley National Park. “Sometimes we have to make trade-offs. In a few cases, we are proposing significant changes to the historic district in order to protect the historic district. A purest might say that we shouldn’t build any berms, flood walls, or shallow channels because they weren’t in the historic district during the 1920s. But if we don’t build flood control structures, we risk losing a lot more in the next major flood. It would be great if we could magically protect the site without changing a thing, but it’s not possible.”

If things go smoothly, several major contracts should be awarded within the next 6 months.

The EA and Finding of No Significant Impact documents can be viewed at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/castle.