In the dirt bikers' dreams, Virginia would be more like Michigan or Idaho, offering thousands of miles of riding land reserved for those seeking the windy freedom of off-road motorcycling. The dirt bikers would snake through vast tracks of tree-lined countryside, secure in the knowledge that their noisy, dust-kicking machines were shielded from everyone but themselves. No neighbors to complain, no cops to hassle them.
But for now, they'll settle for a riding park and a little help from Prince William County.
As the debate rages in Prince William over their rights, dirt bikers are trying to find a solution. About 80 gathered Thursday night in a church basement to discuss how they'll find a piece of land they can designate purely for riding. Speakers tossed out a number of possible sites, including a plan for the county landfill in the Coles District. Landfill neighbors have opposed the plan so far.
The bikers stressed compromise between two groups who haven't had the greatest track record for cooperation: the riders who search out patches of land for recreation, and the neighbors who live near those sites.
"We need a place that's safe--in the sense of not interfering with somebody else," said J. Thomas McGrath, a Richmond lawyer who defends the rights of motorcyclists. "We live in a society where it seems like everybody is filing lawsuits . . . because people don't have the opportunity to sit down with each other."
Last fall, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors passed an ordinance restricting off-road and all-terrain vehicle riding to private land with the specific written permission of the landowner. But following more complaints over noise and dirt, the county recently began considering more restrictions. Those include the amount of land, the amount of buffer it must offer and the number of people who can ride in one place at one time.
County staff plan to come backto the supervisors in the fall with recommendations, board Chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt (D) said. She said the county and Park Authority will help them in their efforts to locate a riding park.
"I think they've been able to successfully demonstrate that this is a family activity," Seefeldt said.
The conflict has led to surprising cohesion among the 200 or so dirt bikers who have joined with the newly formed Prince William Off Road Coalition. During Thursday's gathering, which attracted Seefeldt and Supervisor Mary K. Hill (R-Coles), the riders focused on successes in Texas, Florida, New Jersey and other states where riding groups have banded together to establish riding parks with the help of state, federal and private funds.
Local bikers longed for the even-greater public tracts that Michigan, Idaho and California offer off-road riders. Northern Virginia has no riding parks, said Bob Hammond, president of the National Off Highway Vehicle Conservation Council.
Hammond, whose nonprofit organization has helped more than 100 grass-roots groups across the country realize their riding dreams, said the Prince William coalition has the right idea--and a long road to travel.
"I think the energy is there now," he said. "It's just a matter of capturing the energy and starting down the road. It's not going to be a quick fix."