After 10 years of communications and cooperation with the National Park Service, the Recreational Aviation Foundation reports the Saline Valley’s “Chicken Strip” airfield in Death Valley National Park was officially authorized Aug. 19, 2019.
The Federal Register states that “the Chicken Strip has been in continuous use for decades, pre-dating the management of the area by the NPS. This rule will formalize its continued operation as a backcountry airstrip.”
The rule takes effect immediately.
“This is about what we do to fulfill our mission,” RAF Chairman John McKenna said. “The major credit for this accomplishment goes to everyone who got involved, wrote letters, and remained engaged to save and preserve an airstrip.”
“With this ruling, it’s official now,” said RAF California Liaison Rick Lach, who organizes the seasonal volunteer work parties at the strip, and took the lead on communicating with the NPS. “The aviation community demonstrated its sincere desire to maintain access at Chicken Strip with volunteer labor and input during the public comment period.”
The NPS assumed the land from the Bureau of Land Management in 1994. The landing strip was technically closed by default. Park staff were not aware that Chicken Strip was not authorized, and did not enforce its closed status, RAF officials noted.
“The RAF and the NPS have been successfully partnering through a Memorandum of Understanding to make access to Chicken Strip safe and available to the aviation community,” McKenna added.
The memorandum, renewed in 2017, allows the RAF to maintain the Chicken Strip under NPS supervision at no cost to taxpayers.
Death Valley National Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds said that the ruling removes any question about the legality of the airfield’s use by visitors.
“We believe this is a common sense approach that corrects a regulatory technicality,” he said.
Chicken Strip is the only remaining backcountry airstrip in Death Valley National Park, and at 1,400′ x 35′, provides a challenging aviation experience, RAF officials said.
Data collected from 2017 and 2018 documented an average of 37 landings a year.
The use of the airstrip is “technically demanding and is therefore somewhat self-regulating,” according to the NPS. Officials do not anticipate that this ruling will lead to increased aircraft use at the Saline Valley Warm Springs Area.