Off-Road Race Through Nevada Monument Aborted
USAF Helicopter Crash on Race’s Eve Closed Basin & Range Monument Course Leg
Washington, DC — A controversial off-road race slated to run in late August across a newly created national monument in Nevada never did, according to materials posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Instead, the crash landing of a U.S. Force helicopter caused the closure of the Basin and Range National Monument portion of the race course, forcing the race to be run in two disconnected segments separated by more than 70 miles.
On its first day, August 19, 2016, the Vegas-to-Reno “Best in the Desert Race” – the nation’s longest off-road vehicle race – was supposed to run for 37 miles over the Basin and Range National Monument, a 704,000-acre conservation area created by President Obama in July 2015. That routing decision by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) drew complaints from PEER and other groups over the conflict between a destructive high-speed off-road race and the monument’s mission of protecting fragile desert lands, petroglyphs and other prehistoric rock art.
At approximately 10PM the night before the race, a Pace Hawk helicopter from a rescue squadron out of Nellis Air Force Base crashed during what was described as “routine training.” Four servicemen suffered non-life threatening injuries. The crash reportedly sparked a small fire which was quickly contained.
Race organizers stated that the crash site was “on the course” blocking the race from proceeding nearby. Instead, the race was halted at the first pit stop, 50 miles from the start. Racers and their vehicles were then transported on the highway to Pit Stop 2, some 72 miles away, completely bypassing the Monument.
To mitigate environmental concerns, BLM had already imposed a 35-mile-per-hour speed limit and forbade passing while racers were inside the Monument. But even this limited activity was precluded.
“The fact that BLM had already reduced this race to a glorified parade only underlined it should never have allowed racing inside the Monument in the first place,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It took this unfortunate deus ex machina to shield the Monument from this clearly incompatible use.”
Several questions around this curious affair remain unanswered, however:
- Why did BLM make no public announcement about racers being routed away from the Monument?
- The Air Force states the crash occurred in the Nevada Training Range, an area a substantial distance from the Monument, yet organizers said the crash occurred “on the course.” Avoiding the crash zone required a last-minute more than 70-mile deviation from the planned race course; and
- Will BLM chart future races through the Basin and Range Monument?
“BLM has repeatedly flunked the transparency test in Nevada,” added Ruch, noting that BLM delayed revealing plans to route the race through the Monument until the last minute and still has yet to inform the public that external events frustrated that plan. “Plotting this race through a national monument was conceived in secrecy, so it is only fitting that it ended in a mysterious fog.”