Off-road riding enthusiasts seeking a legal place to ride in Yolo County suffered a setback Tuesday when county supervisors chose not to seek a state planning grant for an off-highway vehicle recreation park that would be located northeast of Woodland.
The proposed site of the recreation area — between county roads 102 and 103 and south of County Road 17 — drew the opposition of neighboring farmers who feared increased noise and trespassing associated with off-road enthusiasts.
“My belief is when you open up this park you’re going to open up the floodgates,” said Pat McMurray, a walnut farmer who lives on County Road 17.
Those open floodgates, he said, would lead to increased drinking, trespassing, hunting and other undesirable activities in the area.
“A park such as this should be up in a setting that is not adjacent to residences or farmland,” he added.
McMurray’s concerns were echoed by two other neighbors who also contended the off-road enthusiasts would eventually get bored with the designated area and head off into adjacent private property anyway.
Keeping off-road vehicle recreation out of private property was the goal behind the proposal.
According to county parks planner Jen Santos, there is currently no legal location for off-highway vehicle recreation in Yolo County.
“But we do have riders,” she told supervisors, with a favorite location being along the Cache Creek.
“This impacts the county, local residents, restoration efforts, etc.,” she said, and led parks department staff — as well as the sheriff’s department — to look for locations where off-road recreation could be done legally.
The site they settled on adjacent to County Road 103 is already used extensively for off-road recreation, Santos said, albeit illegal recreation.
She recommended that supervisors apply for a planning grant from the state department of parks and recreation to determine if the site would indeed be appropriate. The grant would fund feasibility and environmental studies and would have required a 25 percent match from the county, which would have been met with staff time, Santos said.
But supervisors had numerous issues with the proposal, including whether an off-road vehicle recreation area was a worthy priority when it comes to staff time, whether there are more appropriate locations within the county for such a recreation park and whether such a park is even desirable.
While Davis supervisors Jim Provenza and Don Saylor voiced support for seeking the planning grant, Mike McGowan of West Sacramento, Matt Rexroad of Woodland and Duane Chamberlain of the rural 5th district opposed it.
Chamberlain, a farmer himself, said, “I’m not excited about this site at all.”
“(County Road) 103 is closed,” he said. “We OK’d the closure because there was so many problems … people going out and shooting everything up. People stealing. How are you going to keep people from going on that farmland? I’m all for a park… let’s give them a place to go. But this is not the place to go.”
Rexroad questioned the lack of alternative sites to consider and whether an off-road recreation park should even be a priority for county staff.
McGowan, meanwhile, had issues with the notion that the best way to deal with illegal activities is to provide a location where they would be legal.
“What is the county policy that we’re trying to address here?” he asked. “Is it that we somehow feel there is a responsibility to provide this site for the benefit of our residents or is it that we feel we have a responsibility to provide an outlet for legal (activity)?”
He also questioned whether making off-road riding legal in one area of the county would lessen the illegal riding going on elsewhere.
“Do we have … analysis that says the development of a formal site actually causes unlawful use to go down (in other areas of the county)?” he asked. “I’m struggling with the whole law enforcement piece of this.”
Don Amador, representing the BlueRibbon Coalition, a trail-based recreation group, said illegal activity has, in fact, decreased when the Bureau of Land Management opened up land for off-road recreation use.
He cited Cow Mountain in Lake and Mendocino counties and Knoxville in Lake and Napa counties as two recreation areas where illegal activity decreased when federal management came in.
“Residents and taxpayers of Yolo County who like to ride … we don’t have a local place to go ride, so we ride in Cache Creek or on people’s property. But almost without exception, when you bring management in … you deal with the illegal activities,” Amador said.
Yolo County resident Amy Granat, who serves as managing director of the California Off-Road Vehicles Association, added, “I am the person who would be going to this park. My children would go to this park. What a park does is redirect people with nowhere else to go.”
Supervisors, however, ultimately voted 3-2 to put off applying for a state planning grant this year, leaving open the possibility of returning to the issue next year, possibly with alternative sites in mind.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.