CA: SacBee article about dwindling areas for off-road use

Yuba may ride to rescue

It seeks to preserve 30 acres as an official off-road vehicle park.

By Kim Minugh -- Bee Staff Writer

Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Saturday, July 19, 2003

As environmental concerns and rapid population growth chip away at California's available recreational space, off-road enthusiasts are applauding a decision to transform Marysville's Shad Pad into a privately owned park.

The Shad Pad, 30 acres of sandy riverbed that begin at the end of Shad Road and stretch under the E Street Bridge, is a local magnet for off-road vehicle users from across the country.

Concerns about dust fouling the environment and liability for accidents had regulars worried that the Shad Pad would meet the same fate as thousands of other acres of recreational space across California -- closure.

But in a rare effort by local government to save such space, the Yuba County Board of Supervisors is seeking a private entrepreneur to lease the land and open an organized off-road park that people would have to pay to use.

"Paying's not a problem," said 39-year-old Jeff Baumann, recuperating in the shade after an afternoon motocross ride at the Shad Pad this week. Accompanied by his parents, his son and his son's friend, Baumann said he'd be glad to see organization and safety enforcement brought to the often-chaotic riding area -- even if it comes at a price.

"I think it should've been done a long time ago," he said.

Although motorized vehicles are banned from the area until a deal is negotiated, the board's Shad Pad special committee hopes to have the park up and running by August.

"The strategy is to get some oversight and keep it from not being used at all," said Supervisor Dan Logue. "This type of land is shrinking -- access to motocross land is hard to come by. This could be a real step for Yuba County."

The committee has its eye on Peter DiGiordano, a Lincoln entrepreneur interested in the Shad Pad endeavor. He and Logue already have discussed details of the proposed park: two tracks for varying levels of experience, an irrigation system that will alleviate the dust problem, concession stands, permanent lighting, a motocross school run by professional racer Scott Davis and liability insurance.

If the plans live up to the hype, off-road enthusiasts say this could be a successful model of how local officials can compromise with the off-road community.

"That's admirable," said Ed Waldheim, president of the Sacramento-based California Off-Road Vehicle Association. "Shutting down is not the solution."

Waldheim, speaking from his Glendale office, said Gov. Gray Davis and his administration -- especially the Department of Parks and Recreation's Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division -- has been supportive of the off-road community.

The next goal is jump-starting action on the local level, he said. "Our biggest problem, our biggest challenge is to get local communities, local elected officials to go out there and get opportunities for people to ride."

The off-road division owns and operates six parks, the closest being the 800-acre Prairie City State Vehicular Recreation Area in Rancho Cordova. In total, the division oversees 90,000 acres of recreational land.

But off-road enthusiasts say the available land is insufficient considering the explosive growth of off-road-related sports. California is home to the nation's largest concentration of off-road enthusiasts: 14.2 percent of all households own an off-road vehicle, according to a state report.

"We're challenged by a huge increase in the population of motocross riders and a decline in the lands available," said Bill Dart, national public lands director for the Idaho-based Blue Ribbon Coalition, a national organization that lobbies for recreational space. "It's put a squeeze on things."

Registrations of off-road vehicles -- known as green stickers -- have more than doubled in the last 20 years, from 235,003 in 1980 to 489,380 in 2001, according to a report released by the off-road division in September. Conversely, land open to these vehicles is rapidly dwindling. During the same 20-year period, acreage of California desert available for off-roaders was nearly halved, from 13.5 million acres in 1980 to 7 million in 2000.

Environmentalists and developers -- propelled by California's ever growing population -- are behind the decline in space. And the greater Sacramento area, with its booming peripheral growth, is no exception.

As development sprawls toward Prairie City's 800 acres with alarming speed, enthusiasts fear that residents -- armed with complaints of noise and air pollution -- will pressure state officials to close or downsize the park.

Division officials are looking into buying more land to buffer the park from Sacramento's sprawling development, although no formal negotiations are in the works.

Development has eaten into smaller, nonofficial riding areas as well. Sacramento resident Duane Scott, who has been riding motocross since he was 10, remembers riding in West Sacramento and Clarksburg.

Those riding areas are long gone.

"We could go anywhere and ride because there was no houses," said Scott, a member of the Dirt Diggers North Motorcycle Club and promoter of the annual Hangtown Motocross Classic held at Prairie City in May. "Now, you can't even go into the forest and not see a house."

But the problem of decreasing off-road space in Northern California pales in comparison to that in Southern California, where development is hotter and the land battles meaner. The Los Angeles basin alone boasts 26 percent of off-road vehicles registered statewide, but only 4 percent of available off-road land, according to the state report.

One battle is being waged outside San Diego, where the American Sand Association, the Bureau of Land Management and the Center for Biological Diversity are involved in litigation over the fate of one-third of the 134,300-acre Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area.

The debate, ignited over an endangered plant native to the area, is just one example of the tension between environmentalists and off-road enthusiasts.

"Anti-recreation, anti-access groups have gotten very powerful and gotten successful at closing down public access," said Greg Gorman, an ASA board member. "Speaking as a normal, every-day taxpayer, I've had enough."

In Yuba County, supervisors say discussions about the Shad Pad's future have remained largely civil. While questions still linger over how the county will go about leasing the land, most officials agree that it's land that must remain available to the public.

That kind of agreement, enthusiasts say, serves as an example for future recreational space dealings.

"If these guys can settle this without a lot of litigation," Gorman said, "it's a win-win situation."


www.SHARETRAILS.ORG - Blue Ribbion Coalition

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