Committee formed to address Ned Houk Park concerns

Joshua Metrejean, 14, of Clovis, crest a hill on his dirt bike as he rides the trails at Ned Houk Park last month. File photo.

By Mike Linn

Comments from about a dozen people Tuesday night prompted City Manager Ray Mondragon to rescind a recommendation that would restrict the use of all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles to 500 acres at Ned Houk Park.

Instead, the Parks and Recreation Board voted to form an ad hoc committee of city officials, a board member and recreational users of the park.

The group is charged with finding a plan that will please ATV operators and motorcyclists — as well as city officials, mountain bikers, joggers, hikers and a man who grazes livestock on the land six months out of the year.

Mondragon and Parks and Recreation Director Rob Carter initially wanted to segregate ATV and motorcyclists to 500 acres for fear of liability and injury, and a quandary of other reasons associated with vandalism and destruction of park land. Under the current rules, motorcyclists and ATV users are allowed to use 1,500 acres six months a year and 500 from May to November, park officials said.

But 90 minutes of testimony from concerned citizens — many of whom regularly ride ATVs and motorcycles at the park — proved worthwhile.

“It’s not all of us doing (the damage),” said Rita Ferrantino, a regular ATV rider at the park. “There’s a few bad apples, but you know what, there’s a few bad apples that ride horses … bikes … cars. You can’t punish all for one person. If that was the case they’d shut down the bars too because there’s a growing amount of DWI …”

ATV and motorcycle riders refuted claims that as a group they are to blame for cut fences at the park; bullet holes in a map under a pavilion; and tearing up land leased by Brandon Merrill, who pays the city to graze cattle for six months a year at the park.

Merrill did not blame the group as a whole, but said he’s seen people on ATVs cut his fences and make trails on his pasture.

The city has raised $322,000 since 1984 leasing the land for cattle to graze, a park official said. The money is put back into Ned Houk Park.

One of the main issues for the city, Mondragon said, is the possibility of being sued by someone injured there. John O. Hoffman, a consultant hired by the city to assess the risk of liability, said the potential exists for the city in “injuries to users, spectators and bystanders,” according to a written assessment provided at the meeting.

Assistant City Manager Joe Thomas said one such lawsuit stemming from an incident involving a man operating a vehicle at the park resulted in a more than $640,000 settlement.

But ATV and motorcyclists said there is more chance for injury by segregating them to a mere 500 acres.

“Not only is the 500 acres flatland, and going to get worn and tore up, if you take a hundred people riding, who are used to riding on 1,500 acres, and stuff them into 500 acres the injury rate is going to triple,” rider James Ferrantino said.

For Ronnie Jones, who rides at the park and teaches motorcycle safety, the best way to keep the “bad apples” from destroying the park is for the city to sell permits and track those who ride there.

For Steve Brooks, who rides both horses and ATVs, segregation is not a bad idea. But he believes since most park users are ATV and motorcyclists, they should get more land.

“Let’s determine the majority user and give them the majority of land,” he said.

Mondragon said he liked some of the ideas Brooks presented, and asked him to serve on the committee.
But Thomas said it will be difficult to solve the problems in meetings.

“The cause of the problem” — the few who disregard the land and rules — “is not here tonight. You won’t see them at a meeting like this trying to solve the problem,” Thomas said.