WOODBINE — Almost two months since New Jersey opened the first state-owned, off-road vehicle park, many riders are already saying “thanks, but no thanks.”
So far, only 39 people have ridden the dirt course off Route 610. That is partly because the track opened in the dead of winter, but also because riders complain that the rules governing the Mount Pleasant Off-Road Vehicle Park are overly restrictive and confusing.
It is not yet clear if those regulations will change when the state hires a private company to operate the public facility, as it plans to do this spring.
Mike DeRosa, owner of Proformance Cycles in nearby Corbin City, said prohibiting anyone under the age of 14 and requiring headlights and taillights are some of the regulations that have turned away visitors.
“The age limit cuts out half of the riders,” he said, remembering that he started riding when he was 7 years old and his daughter started riding even earlier.
He now has a few dozen bikes and ATVs at his shop, but said that only two have the equipment needed to ride at Mount Pleasant. Vehicles must also be registered with the state Motor Vehicle Commission, a process that has similar restrictions.
With many others in the same situation, DeRosa guessed riders would stick to their backyard tracks or rural areas where they can avoid as much scrutiny.
That might not have been a problem decades ago, before heavy residential construction in parts of southern New Jersey. DeRosa said he could ride almost wherever he wanted, since there were much fewer people around to raise concerns about noise and dust.
“When I was a kid growing up in Cape May Court House, I used to be able to ride to Belleplain, no problem,” he said, following train tracks and wooded trails to unused sand mines.
Now, he said, the trails he used to ride dead-end in housing developments. Most riders today are limited to people’s backyard tracks, which often sit next to neighbors who would rather not see or hear them.
Both advocates and opponents of nuisance riding have pleaded for public facilities, but places to operate them has been an arduous process for the same reasons they are needed.
“We have had properties that we thought were good ATV parks, but we have not got buy-in from the municipalities,” said Larry Ragonese, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection.
Off-road riding advocates acknowledged the not-in-my-backyard problem is a major hold-up in finding public facilities, but they also said it is worth the state’s effort to find such sites.
Not only do the sales and work related to these vehicles bring in tax revenue, but viable facilities could attract tens of thousands of riders from throughout the Northeast who then spend money on restaurants, hotels, campgrounds and other businesses.
“Think of the revenue,” DeRosa said. “We go to Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, we even spend money in South of the Border” in South Carolina.
In addition to amending the rules and expanding Mount Pleasant, there are other opportunities on the horizon for off-road vehicle riders.
The Millville Planning Board recently approved a project to build an off-road park on 85 acres near the New Jersey Motorsports Park, with construction planned to start this spring and end later this year.
Maurice River Township officials have also been trying to set up an off-road park in their municipality on old, unused sand mines. Mayor Andrew Sarclette said they need approval from the DEP and the Pinelands Commission.
“We’re happy to have the one in Woodbine, but the rules set for that preclude a lot of people,” he said.
He said he has two particular sites in mind on Hunters Mill Road, one of which is 90 acres.
The Mount Pleasant property is 63 acres, but less than an acre of it is currently open for use. State officials have previously said they plan to expand that area.
When the park first opened, usage was light. On Sunday morning, with the temperature only a few degrees above freezing, the track was empty.
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