Parrino flanked by John Connolly (left) and James Connolly. (Photo: Geisel)
Parrino, Cycle Club want to hear more engines rev at moto track
When Joe Parrino was in high school, he remembers Mammoth’s motocross site as a more active location than it is today. Back in the day, he recalls seeing everything from locals’ trailers to factory big rigs out there, riding for either recreation or testing. Then, in 2002, the track was unceremoniously closed. The sound of motorbike engines was silenced.
In 2007, Parrino decided it was time to pursue his dream of hearing those engine revved up again. Along with his associates from the Mammoth Motorcycle Club (MMC), Parrino is currently running down that dream full throttle, preparing to file a proposal and application for a Use Permit that would, if approved, open the track to other uses during the four months of summer outside of Mammoth Mountain’s annual Motocross race event, held during the month of June.
As part of a recent overall U.S. Forest Service update to Mono County’s Board of Supervisors, Inyo National Forest District Ranger Jon Regelbrugge was asked about the state of the motocross track. He first provided a bit of background, saying that problems with the site led the Forest Service to determine that use of the track didn’t entirely jive with federal policy, thus leading to the closure earlier in the decade.
Following an environmental analysis, the Town of Mammoth Lakes (which assumed responsibility) and its subcontractor, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, entered into an agreement in 2004 to stage the single event. No other riding has been allowed since, but during the past two years, MMSA has been the lone single-event permit holder, running the event in conjunction with the Town and Forest Service.
Asked about recently proposed concepts for expanded use of the site, while Mammoth Motorcycle Club’s application wasn’t mentioned specifically, Regelbrugge said the U.S.F.S. “would entertain valid proposals that meet all the requirements, including a new NEPA study.” An additional event during summer would, he added, constitute a “substantial change,” and that the group in question, presumably MMC, has no professional history in anything such as this, but stated the Forest Service wouldn’t dismiss any proposals out of hand. “We’re waiting to see the proposal.”
Parrino, and fellow MMC members James and John Connolly (who also serves as the Town’s Recreation Supervisor), said their plan basically would bring together trail and track riders as a unified front. Versatility is one of the end goals. “MMSA has both Alpine and Cross-Country skiing,” Parrino pointed out. The Connolly brothers also added emphasis on the social aspects and a trails preservation component, adding it’s in the Club’s best interests to see the trails maintained for users. That includes signage and wayfinding to make it a “more user-friendly experience for visitors and locals,” instead of “just a system of fire roads.”
The Club said it is considering setting up its operation as a nonprofit organization, which would open up access to considerable amounts of grant money. “We’re not worried about it being profitable,” said James Connolly. “For us it’s about recreation and volunteering. We see it as a sort of public service.” The Club said it already has amenities such as GPS downloads and camping information on its website (www.mammothmotorcycleclub.com) for free.
Nominal gate fees (with signed waivers) would supplement grant funding to cover basic costs of operation, said John Connolly. If successful in pulling in grants, as Parrino and the Club hope they will, those funds would, they said, provide jobs, purchase machinery and cover maintenance costs, among other expenses. (An annual NEPA environmental report is required, for instance, which would have to be paid for, at least in part, by the group.)
“Trails are public lands, even the track,” James Connolly said. “It just wouldn’t be right charging and profiting off of them.” Teaching young and newer riders the fine points of motocross riding would be another outlet the group would like to see brought into the site. According to Parrino and the Connolly brothers, schools and camps can be funded through Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) grant dollars.
Benefits to the town and county, they say, are obvious. “They pull up in motorcoaches with big entourages and still stay in condos,” Parrino said. “I don’t know of any other sport that puts heads in beds and generates that much Transient Occupancy Tax and other revenue like that one.”
Parrino said he’s not looking for monetary support from local government, but rather simple endorsements, which will not only lend political credibility, but help overcome permitting and other legal obstacles he and the group are sure to run across at some point or another. Mending fences with the Forest Service and potentially partnering with MMSA are also at the top of the priority list. “We’ve had some back and forth with the Forest Service in the past,” Parrino admitted. According to Parrino, the two are talking cordially now. “We’ve put those days behind us and are moving forward.”
A degree of development and improvements are already in place as part of MMSA’s infrastructure improvements to the site. A deal to use MMSA’s improvements would, Parrino thinks, be a good start, but he’s also thinking more broadly when it comes to MMSA’s involvement. “I think of the area as a big, outdoor amusement park. Think of MMSA as sort of like Disneyland, and the track as one of its ‘lands,’” Parrino described. “I’d love a relationship with MMSA.”
MMSA, however, is taking a “wait-and-see” approach when it comes to the track and surrounding area. According to Senior VP Greg Dallas, entities have to work with the Forest Service, but also understand what’s involved in staging events. “We do an outstanding job in meeting Forest Service requirements and consider ourselves very fortunate to be able to have [the Mammoth Motocross] event,” Dallas opined. “Many people, however, tend to forget we almost lost it completely, and had to work hard to get it back.”
Dallas pointed out there are “groups that don’t want any activity at all” out there. “It’s a very sensitive area,” he added. Dallas indicated MMSA will take its cues from what the Forest Service decides, vis-a-vis the MMC proposal. “We’re not rocking the boat,” Dallas said. If approved, however, he said MMSA would at least entertain a meeting with the “responsible parties involved.”
Meanwhile, Parrino and the Connolly brothers are moving forward, largely on what they cite as precedent. “It was open,” they said. “We’re not reinventing the wheel; just trying to get it turning again.”