Are motocross advocates trying to open a Pandora’s box?
Putting something under a microscope can be a risky business because of the scrutiny that can follow. Such is the case with the Mammoth Motocross Track.
Mammoth Lakes resident Joe Parrino continues to lead the charge to reopen the track outside of the annual motocross event, but at Tuesday night’s Mammoth Lakes Recreation Commission meeting, before a full house of track-opening supporters, the delicacies of the situation were fully revealed.
Parrino first made a presentation explaining the benefits of re-opening the track.
“The track closure is devastating to the Town,” Parrino explained. “If word got out that we re-opened the track, town would be packed. It’s a way to put heads in beds because these people are coming in motor homes and staying in condos. They love to spend money.”
The issue on the table, however, is that by putting out a new proposal and going through another NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process for the track, those involved could inadvertently lose what they already have.
“The Forest Service is open to looking at an application, even though it is inconsistent with our federal policy, but we can’t guarantee the outcome,” said District Ranger Mike Schlafmann, who attended Tuesday night’s meeting.
According to Forest Service policy, the agency is not allowed to permit races, facilities and race tracks with hill climbs, obstacles and timed events. During the 2002 negotiations when the track’s permit was renewed, the applicants (Town of Mammoth Lakes and Mammoth Mountain) were able to get this part of the policy waived for the actual motocross event because of the narrowness of the proposal (the event only opens the track for two consecutive weekends).
So, if you look at opening the track, say for four months as Parrino is suggesting, you open the study up to a more thorough investigation, which could lead to the closure of the track completely.
“We’re asking the Forest Service to do something against national policy,” said Recreation Commission Chair Bill Sauser.
Take the idea of charging an entrance fee in order to cover maintenance costs, Schlafmann told The Sheet. If you are going to charge, you are going to market to get people here. It’s okay to have a loud event in the shoulder season because no one is here, but if you’re doing it every weekend then you can get into user conflicts, which would have to be studied.
The only other national-type motocross track on Forest Service land, according to Schlafmann, is one that the Forest Service inherited from the Bureau of Reclamation near Lake Isabella.
“We’re still trying to figure this one out,” he said. “We didn’t even know it was on Forest Service land until a kid died on it four years ago.”
The Forest Service does authorize open areas for motocross riding, without the hill climbs, obstacles and races, which is why areas such as Poleta Canyon exist, Schlafmann explained.
“We are willing to sit down and work with anybody, but we are nervous about the future of our event,” said Mammoth Mountain Ski Area VP Greg Dallas, who also attended Tuesday’s meeting. “We don’t want the track closed; we fought hard for it.” MMSA currently holds the permit for its special event, while the Town holds the track permit.
Both Dallas and Sauser asked Parrino what his next steps were.
“What do you want us to do?” Sauser asked.
“I’m asking for the Town of Mammoth Lakes to put in for a permit and partner with Mammoth Mountain Ski Area,” Parrino explained. He pointed to the three items that Forest Service District Ranger Jon Regelbrugge said would need to get ironed out for a proposal: financial backing, insurance and maintenance.
Commissioner Teri Stehlik added that the costs of the NEPA process would also need to be laid out.
“It starts with an application,” Schlafmann said, putting the process into concrete terms. “You need to get the right people in the room to get a viable proposal together.” He also pointed out that even if he approved the application it could always be overturned by those above him.
“I’m not the end of the line,” he said.
“It comes down to economics,” Sauser said. “When the track was open before it did not create a huge impact [as Parrino repeatedly claimed it would], it won’t float our boat all on its own. We need to look at real feasibility, not emotion.”
Sauser was not, however, discrediting the idea of reopening the track and felt that meetings should be scheduled with the appropriate parties at the table to scope out the viability.
“I love seeing the passion here tonight,” he said in regard to the large turnout. He warned the audience not to lose that passion in the months to come and to commit to attending the future meetings that would be held.
Sauser also reminded the audience that the track was only one piece of the Eastern Sierra’s OHV system. There are trails everywhere but the mapping of these trails needs to be enhanced.
The track was closed when the original permit lapsed and the Forest Service was forced to review the use, with all of its new policies, in order to issue a new permit. Previously, the track’s gate had simply been left open during the summer months, a case of don’t ask don’t tell.