The first state-owned off-road vehicle park will open in Woodbine on Sunday morning, three years after lawmakers set a goal to provide more public riding opportunities in New Jersey.

The 63-acre former gravel pit at the corner of county routes 610 and 550 will allow a limited number of ATV and dirt bike riders on a first-come, first-serve basis starting at 9:30 a.m., Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna confirmed Monday.

Hajna characterized Sunday as a “preview” of the facility while the state finalizes details for a contract that would have a private entity run the operation. The park will still be open to the public, and riders will have to be registered with the state.

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The DEP plans to release more details on the park’s rules later this week, Hajna said.

The plan to open a park in Woodbine has been in the works since at least 2011 when the state purchased the property for $393,000. It has since received mixed reactions.

Riders think public parks are long overdue, and those people annoyed by off-road noise hope this will encourage more responsible riding, but some do not want to see a park anywhere near their home and think it might just draw more reckless activity to Cape May County.

Nevertheless, Woodbine Mayor Bill Pikolycky welcomes the project.

“I think it’s a great idea that finally there’s going to be a legal place for them to go,” he said.

The opening just barely makes a self-imposed deadline set in legislation signed during the Corzine administration that requires the DEP to find three public riding locations in the state. The law says “substantial progress” must be made toward that goal or increased fees on off-road vehicle registrations would expire next year.

It appears that requirement has been satisfied, but Hajna was not sure about the legal interpretation or if it factored into the timing of the opening.

“We wanted to get this up and running, obviously, as soon as possible,” he said.

Regardless, off-road proponents have been yearning for more riding parks. The number of such facilities has dwindled to less than a handful statewide, and some enthusiasts have to drive to Delaware and Pennsylvania to ride each weekend.

Finding new sites has also been frustrating for proponents who say that no matter where they go, residents complain about noise and environmentalists object to wildlife habitat destruction.

Dale Freitas, a longtime off-road event organizer who worked with lawmakers to resolve concerns from both sides, said Monday that he was no longer involved in the industry due to the frustrating process of trying to open a park.

Freitas was behind a plan to create a 120-acre park in Little Egg Harbor Township in 2009, but locals vehemently opposed the project and the township zoning board rejected it.

“I got so beat up over that LEHT thing,” Freitas said.

That sort of opposition has made it difficult for the state to find two more sites, which the legislation states should be in Central and North Jersey.

The location in Woodbine was formerly a motocross track but it closed after one of its co-owners died in 2003. It was later a paintball field, then sat unused.

The area is relatively rural, mainly surrounded by trees and a few scattered business. The Woodbine Municipal Airport is to the west and mostly sand mining operations are to the north.

There are, however, a few homes less than a mile to the south, just across the Woodbine border in Dennis Township.

Pikolycky hopes that the new park solves more problems than it creates.

“We’re excited about it and hopefully it will abate some of these problems,” he said.

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