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MORCA Members Meet With President Obama

Guest post from Gary Courtright of the Monterey Off Road Cycling Association (MORCA)

On Friday, March 2, I not only had the honor of attending the White House Conference on Conservation (along with IMBA Executive Director Mike Van Abel), but the privilege of meeting President Obama and asking for his support for designating 15,000 acres of federal lands as the Fort Ord Soldiers National Monument.

This once-in-a-lifetime experience for me began as my wife and I got involved locally with the Monterey Off-Road Cycling Association (MORCA), a chapter of IMBA. As an avid mountain biker, I have had the chance to ride most, if not all, of the 86-miles of trails out at the Fort Ord Public Lands. As the father of five boys, I’ve watched each of them develop a love of the outdoors as we’ve taken rides along the rolling trails near East Garrison and progress to racing mountain bikes locally. My sons have also gained a real appreciation for the unique habitat out on the BLM lands when we’ve worked on trail restoration projects.

At the conference, the President talked about his experience taking his daughters to Yellowstone National Park for the first time and how protecting these special places in our country encourages this love and respect of the outdoors while preserving our country’s heritage. That is what we want to do in Monterey County by protecting the federal lands managed by BLM.

Designating the area as a national monument would permanently protect the federal land and ensure that the families from Monterey County will be able to continue to use this area for mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding and other recreational activities. The monument proposal would only impact the federal lands and wouldn’t impact other development plans on the surrounding area.

Having the public lands as open space has benefited our community by bringing in nationally-recognized outdoor events, including the Sea Otter Classic, the largest biking event in the country. Tens of thousands of people visit the public lands at Fort Ord each year, contributing $15-$17 million to our local economy every year.

At the conference, the President talked about the need to "do something affirmative to make sure that we are passing on this incredible blessing that we have." This is opportunity we have before us. There is tremendous support for a national monument from veterans, local businesses, local elected officials and recreational users. Now it’s time for our whole community to show our support for the designation of the Fort Ord Soldiers National Monument.

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Note from IMBA: Mountain bicycling or permitted events, such as races, are not permitted in all National Monuments. Because MORCA is a valued partner of the BLM with regard to Fort Ord, and has been actively engaged from the beginning of the conservation efforts, decision makers have been receptive to continuing the present uses of the land. IMBA joined in recently to further those efforts in Washington, D.C.

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Broad community support for Fort Ord National Monument status

As Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recognized on his 1/13/12 visit here, a diverse coalition of local groups agree on the importance of securing National Monument status for Fort Ord Public Lands. I am among the many who are grateful for the efforts of Gary Courtright, Henrietta Stern, Gordon Smith, and so many others who work long and hard to protect this beautiful land for future generations. Honoring the military history, protecting natural habitat, and providing recreational opportunities that respect these wide, open spaces is our goal. Thank you for sharing Gary's message. Mari Lynch

Names of folks in pic

I want to point out that Henrietta Stern is shaking President Obama's hand in the picture. Henrietta has been on the board of MORCA for many years and is invaulable to our chapter! To the left is Brian O'Odonnell of Conservation Lands Foundation. To the right is Gordon Smith of Keep Fort Ord Wild, Mr. P and myself. Thank you IMBA for your support!-Gary Courtright