BLM California News.bytes 
News.bytes Extra, issue 557

History Speaks on BLM El Centro’s Public Lands

A tent and display table in the desert near rocky landscape
The General Land Office display attracted visitors to learn more about their public lands.  Photo: BLM/J. Szalwinski

Visitors recreating at the Painted Gorge area of El Centro’s West Desert over Veteran’s Day weekend were surprised and intrigued to find an unusual camp – a replica canvas tent depicting the role of the General Land Office (GLO) in the distribution of public lands at the turn of the 19th century. The GLO was established in 1812 to handle the business associated with the sale of public lands for private ownership, to transform  wilderness to agricultural use, and to generate income for the Federal government.  Today’s BLM is a direct descendant of the GLO, established in 1946 when the General Land Office and the U.S. Grazing Service merged. 

Visitors learned how tracts of land were once surveyed, and the arduous task of marking off boundaries using a “survey chain” -- a 66 ft. chain comprised of 100 metal links – and how that chain had to be laid 80 times to measure off the distance of one mile.  Young visitors earned their “Apprentice Surveyor” certificates after laying the chain, while their parents marveled at the patience it must have took.

The GLO display also served as the sign-in point for El Centro’s annual National Public Lands Day (NPLD) celebration.  A popular event among off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts, visitors took to the hills in this rugged area and collected 27 bags of trash, with the majority of the trash in the form of spent ammunition shells.   Volunteers received a NPLD T-shirt for their efforts, and a coupon good for one free entrance into any number of federal areas that charge an entrance fee. 

To learn more about the General Land Office, visit http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/info/history.html.  To learn more about public lands managed by the El Centro Field Office, or to obtain a copy of the “Routes of Travel for Western Imperial County” map visit www.blm.gov/elcentro or call 760-337-4400. 

a youngster stretches out a chain across the sand
A young visitor measures out the 66 ft "survey chain."  80 lengths of this chain measure one mile.  Photo: BLM/J. Szalwinski

a family at the volunteer sign-up table
With "Apprentice Surveyor" certificate in hand, this youngster and her family volunteer to help clean up the Painted Gorge area during El Centro's National Public Lands Day (NPLD) Celebration.  Photo:  BLM/J. Szalwinski

A family poses with their National Public Lands Day T-shirts
Success!  The group earns their t-shirts after collecting bags of trash. Photo: BLM/J. Szalwinski

a volunteer walks across a rocky desert landscape with a partially-full trash bag
A volunteer scours the desert floor for trash during the NPLD clean-up. Photo: BLM/J. Szalwinski 

- Joya Szalwinski, Interpretive Park Ranger, BLM El Centro Field Office (Nov. 6, 2012)

BLM California News.bytes, issue 557 -- To subscribe to News.bytes, send an e-mail to: mailto:Join-Newsbytes@List.ca.blm.gov OR visit our News.bytes subscription page.