The Black Rock Desert - High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area Act of 2000
Soon after the formation of the Nevada Wilderness Project in 1999, an opportunity arose that set a favorable tone for the work we were undertaking in Nevada: Retiring Senator Richard Bryan, D-NV, announced his intention to protect the vast desert and canyonlands of the Black Rock region in northwestern Nevada.
An area rich in history, Black Rock was considered one of the most wild, unprotected places left in the lower 48 states. Reno was growing like mad, northern California was experiencing a population boom, and people from all over were flocking to Burning Man, the art-culture fest still held every year on the Black Rock playa. Black Rock had been a popular camping and hunting destination for years, and all of this was putting great pressure on this fragile region.
Working with Senator Bryan offered a real shot at protecting this vast landscape, and we banded with other members of the conservation community in northern Nevada to seize the opportunity. Senator Bryan originally envisioned a National Conservation Area (NCA) that would protect the renowned Applegate-Lassen Emigrant Trail that winds through Black Rock. We presented a broader plan—one that would protect the trail and the entire region.
The trail was surrounded by 11 Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) that were awaiting Congressional approval as Wilderness. These ranged from the huge expanse of the Black Rock Desert, to the deep canyons of the High Rock area, to aspen-covered slopes at 8000-feet elevation. We argued that the best way to protect the Lassen-Applegate Trail and honor the experience of the emigrants was to designate the 11 Wilderness Study Areas as Wilderness.
To win public support, NWP and its partners undertook a statewide effort to educate people about Black Rock itself and about the merits of strong legislation. We did this with public presentations, slide shows, by tabling at events, and by physically bringing people to the area—to hike, explore and experience it firsthand. Northern Nevada had never before experienced a concerted drive to enlist Wilderness supporters from the trailheads, boardrooms and driveways of Reno and well beyond.
Grassroots advocacy for Wilderness took hold in Nevada, and we had to grow to keep up. Activists enlisted the support of more than 100 businesses. Newspaper editorials across the state showed broad support for strong protections in the Black Rock. Polls taken in the state showed the public recognized the need to protect the wilderness values in the region. Our message was clear: a successful NCA depended upon the permanent protection of the Wilderness resources in the region. After a year of intense grassroots organizing by dozens of tireless volunteers, the work paid off. The Black Rock Desert - High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area Act of 2000 passed, and President Clinton signed the Act into law on December 20, 2000. The result? — a doubling of the amount of protected Wilderness in Nevada.