“Success has many fathers,” RAF Director Tim Riley says, using the proverb to point out that many people put in a lot of time and effort toward preserving Stovepipe Wells airport in Death Valley National Park.
The Park Service had planned to close the airstrip in favor of stargazing. After meetings with aviation advocates, and a public comment period in which the Park Service received many comments in support of retaining the facility, imminent closure has been averted. “The aviation community including the RAF, AOPA and California Pilots Association have a good relationship with the Park Service leadership, beginning years ago with RAF California Liaison Rich Lach,” Riley said. The parties agreed on short- and long-term plans to preserve the airport. Most likely, the asphalt surface will eventually be converted to gravel, “which largely eliminates problems with heaving asphalt in Death Valley’s heat,” Riley said, adding, “RAF key volunteer and NEPA expert, Roger Blew, was instrumental in guiding the conversation and proposing viable alternatives throughout the process.”
The airport was first developed in 1948 at the site of the current campground. In the early to mid-1970s the Park Service moved the airstrip to its present location and paved it. The airstrip is within a short walk to tourist services. Part of the Park’s concern was low visitation, but public comments made a strong case that only a fraction of users sign in.
The Park’s “Findings of No Significant Impact” document in part states, “Overall, the selected alternative will be beneficial to visitor use and experience and would allow continued recreational use of the Stovepipe Wells Developed Area.” Additional benefits are explained: “Converting the asphalt airstrip to gravel will restore a large area of permeable surface within the floodplain.”
The RAF reminds pilots to always sign in to signify usage; and be aware of the effects of noise near settlements at both Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek, which lies near the Native Timbisha Village.
Submitted on November 14, 2022.