CAN THIS RIDING AREA SURVIVE?–FEB 9
This story comes from FloridaToday.com and is of interest to offroad riders in every state. It is the story of a popular riding area. To get the full story, go to Floridatoday.com, but here is the basic gist
CHANGES COULD UPSET OFF-ROAD MECCAS
by Victor Thompson
PALM BAY — Dylan Leggett’s version of Sunday morning worship involves whipping his 225-pound Honda dirt bike above house-high mounds of dirt. During the past three years, Dylan, 14, and his family have joined hundreds of others who trek from cities throughout Florida to southwest Palm Bay for a place that off-road riding enthusiasts call the “The Compound.”
The Compound is a subdivision without homes. More than 1,000 families bought the lots there from General Development Corp., which cleared the land and paved the roads. Then GDC went bankrupt in 1990. What’s left is nearly 4,000 acres of dirt mounds, trails and grassland that riders say is emerging as one of the state’s best off-road destinations.
Melbourne resident Glenn Breem rides the trails on his yellow Bombardier ATV. “It is by far one of the best places in Florida. A couple of people call it Mecca,” he said, referring to Internet message board comments. “It’s huge. It’s easy enough to access. It’s free.”
But Francis Esposito, a New Yorker who bought a lot in that area decades ago, says GDC’s bankruptcy took his money and his dream of settling in sunny Palm Bay. “I was young. . . I just held onto it,” said Esposito, who will pay $25.09 in property taxes on his lot this year. “We’re paying the county for water and services that were never there.”
Police patrol the area, but local businesses and riders agree the city could do more to ensure riders’ safety and protect the non-riding public. Meanwhile, Palm Bay and Brevard County officials are spending $75,000 to study the area in hopes of attracting business and residents to the remote location. The Compound lies west of Madden Avenue along J.A. Bombardier Boulevard, with a network of paved roads spreading south to St. Andre Boulevard. Pickups, SUVs and RV campers line the edges of the unnamed streets every weekend to unload four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes. Folding chairs cluster near portable grills that tinge the air with the scent of barbecued meat as exhaust pipes shriek. Most families park near the main road, known as Wingham Drive on maps and property records, where they can watch their children chase each other and hop mounds that rise like an alligator’s back across the dirt and grass flats.
Speed and power mean everything, with most dirt bikes and ATVs built to top out at 85 mph. Adults, teens and elementary school-aged children race by at 30 mph to 50 mph on flats and disappear into the bright white sand tracks leading into a hidden trail.
Riders fall frequently, but serious accidents are rare. In late December, Indian River County resident Jonathan Quackenbush, 20, was rushed by ambulance to Holmes Regional Medical Center after a bad landing on his dirt bike. He remained in intensive care for a few days before being released.
Don Owen, a local engineer and dirt biker who friends call “Safety Guy,” said the city could do more to control access to the area, which offers many types of off-road riding. “This is good because it offers something for every skill level to do,” Owen said. “It could be a great Motocross complex.”
David Leggett, father to Dylan and his three elementary school-aged brothers, said he and his wife, Monica, consider dirt biking safer than most of the things kids do at Dylan’s age. Leggett said he and each of the boys have dirt bikes — the three smallest ride mini-bikes capable of reaching 30 mph — and he makes sure they and their friends wear boots, helmets and chest protectors. “I know a lot of families out here. We all have something in common. If anyone gets injured, everyone rallies around and helps,” Leggett said. “I get nervous because (Dylan) takes it to the edge, but I trust him a lot. Plus he’s got a good bike.”
Despite the camaraderie among off-road families, Leggett said he can’t ignore the dangers. “Everything goes. You get people that aren’t paying attention,” he said. “If they didn’t have this place. . . they’d be terrorizing neighborhoods.”
Maj. John Blackledge, a Palm Bay Police Department operation commander, said patrol officers focus on enforcing city laws that bar off-road vehicles from going near homes or using the paved roads. “A few people mess things up for the greater majority,” Blackledge said, referring to bonfires, drag racing on the paved roads and other illegal activity that sometimes occurs at night in The Compound. “Most people do what we call passive recreation.”
Blackledge said the department has a zero-tolerance policy for off-roaders riding east of Madden Avenue and north of Bombardier Boulevard. Police also carry out periodic searches for stolen off-road vehicles, but Blackledge said officers are not out to arrest families having fun on the unmarked dirt lots.
Riders owe their bounty to General Development Corp., which cleared the land, paved the roads and dug swales. Property buyers like Esposito were told falsely by GDC salespeople that their lots would have city services. Fourteen years after GDC went bankrupt, they’re among a long list of creditors still owed money. Big developers may once again play a role in the area as city and county officials seek to revitalize the area. Palm Bay City Manager Lee Feldman said preliminary results are due by the fall from a $75,000 joint study with Brevard County.
“We are actually in the very preliminary stages of the Southwest Palm Bay planning study with the county,” Feldman said. “We’re exploring the possibility of what can happen out there.”
J.B. Burkhart, general manager of the city’s largest off-road vehicle retailer, House of Power, said he hopes one of those possibilities includes a Motocross park, as well as increased safety measures.
Last year, thieves stole close to $27,000 in off-road vehicles and products from House of Power. Burkhart said registering the vehicles with the city would deter theft, bring in tax revenue and lead to safer riding in The Compound. “The future, as I understand it to be, is uncertain now,” he said. “I would love to see (a Motocross park) happen.”