By Nicholas Grube

Triplicate staff writer

Del Norte County Board of Supervisors defended public access to outdoor recreational areas during Tuesday's meeting.

The board addressed two issues that could hinder entrance into parts of the Smith River National Recreation Area as well as Lake Earl and Lake Tolowa. In both instances the board unanimously decided to defend the right for recreational access to these natural areas.

First the board approved comments on an environmental assessment, prepared by the Smith River NRA, that proposes reclassifying the near 800 miles of roadways and trails within their boundaries. These reclassified roads could be added to, upgraded, downgraded or de-commissioned (taken back to a natural state), according to the assessment.

However, the board wants to avoid the decommissioning, or obliteration, of any of the roads.

andquot;Our first concern is to keep as many roads open as possible,andquot; District 2 Supervisor Martha McClure said after the meeting. This way, she said, andquot;we have as many back roads as possible stay(ing) open for recreational purposes.andquot;

The board's response the first step in keeping these roads open, said Assistant County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina, who is in charge of ensuring the supervisors' comments are on the environmental assessment.

andquot;The idea was to keep as much available to the recreation public as possibleandquot; he said.

The board also will send a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an attempt to maintain recreational options on Lake Earl and Lake Tolowa.

andquot;We've been trying to get better access for boaters and recreationers to Lake Earl and Tolowa,andquot; said Frank Galea who is on the Fish and Game Advisory Commission.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to designate the two bodies of water as critical habitat for the tidewater goby, a fish that has been on the federal endangered species list since 1994.

The board's letter will request that certain areas around the lakes be excluded from the critical habitat classification so they can be used as access sites for recreational purposes.

andquot;We do have access sites that people use,andquot; said McClure, andquot;but it's not declared here (in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife designation.andquot;)

The board also approved the consolidation of the Department of Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol and the Department of Health and Social Services into one superagency.

Current director of the Department of Health and Social Services, Gary Blatnik, will head the single department.