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By: Robert Janis

New Jersey State Program Helps OHV’ers Gain Access to Land

For many of the all-terrain vehicle state associations, the number one issue is gaining access to land on which ATVers/OHVers can ride. One state, however, is executing a program that assists ATV/OHV groups to buy land and convert it to ATV parks.

That forward-looking state is New Jersey, and the agency involved is the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Green Acres Fund, which is a part of the department.

Preserving Land for Future Generations

Dale Freitas, president of the New Jersey Off-Highway Vehicle Association, is familiar with the program. He noted that the program was started to save lands from development in the most densely populated state in the country. “New Jersey has a very ambitious open space preservation initiative,” explained Freitas. “That’s because New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the entire country--1,100 people per square mile. So the state is working to preserve space for future generations. To do that, they purchase farmland, woodlands, and wetlands.  They purchase those properties outright or they assist organizations like the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the Audubon Society, the Urban Stage Lands Trust and a lot of environmental groups to buy land that they can preserve.”

So now conservation groups and others are buying land with the help of the Green Acres Fund. The Fund provides money to the groups by purchasing a development easement on the property from the group that is buying the land. “So, say that the New Jersey Conservation Foundation is looking at 500 acres of property that costs $2 million to purchase,” explained Freitas. “They will approach the Green Acres Fund and tell them that they want to purchase the property for preservation and they ask the fund how much they are willing to contribute. The Green Acres Fund says that they will purchase a development easement on the property from the Conservation Foundation for a fee based on the appraisal of the property. Usually that’s about 40 percent to 70 percent of the appraised value of the land.”

Freitas noted that the New Jersey Off-Highway Vehicle Association is in the process of purchasing land that will be converted into an OHV park. “We are purchasing a sizable piece of acreage, and the state is putting up 70 percent of the appraised value. We are also getting money from the state’s Recreational Trails Program, and we are financing the rest of the purchase with money we are getting from banks tied with the state that support non-profit groups.”

Once the land is purchased, the state works with non-profit groups ranging from motorcycle and ATV clubs and recreational and environmentalist groups. Volunteers from these groups  actually convert the land with money contributed by the state’s recreational trails program. “The money contribution is based on a 50-50 match with volunteers,” said Freitas.

A Long-Term Commitment
The process of buying the land and then converting it to an OHV park can be a long one. For example, the DEP and the Green Acres Fund is involved in buying 224 acres of land that used to be sand and gravel strip mines in south New Jersey to create an ATV park. “One-third of the property is a gravel pit, one-third is wetlands, and one-third is undisturbed woodlands,” said Freitas. “The state purchased it about five or so years ago with plans to turn it over for the development of an OHV park. But it has become a lightning rod issue for the state’s environmentalist community because one of their most outspoken advocates lives within ear shot of the property, and he doesn’t want to see the park go on line. So there have been delays.”

Freitas explained that the process not only includes buying the land but also negotiating with the community, appearing before zoning and planning board meetings to obtain permits, and just plain getting general agreement from the community itself.

He added that the process begins with laying the groundwork ahead of time. “We’ve found it best to cultivate the idea of an OHV park in a community over time,” he said. “We have found that it is easier to get a park in a community that has experience with OHV events. So the Atlantic Grand Prix, which is a part of the NJOVHA, holds racing events in the community and we play off positive P.R. using newspapers and radio, and we focus on local people who are just looking for legal places to ride. Although we hold racing events to help with the P.R., it is not about racing but rather about families having legal places to ride ATVs with their kids.”

Freitas continued that the P.R. process also includes highlighting people within the community who participate in the Atlantic Grand Prix events. This includes fire companies, the Boy Scouts, and other groups who also benefit from the event. Local residents who win Atlantic Grand Prix events are also promoted in the local media. Freitas points out that the community knows who these boys are. This helps the ATV/OHV advocates become a part of the community, and it becomes easier to sell the idea of an OHV park in that community. Once the community is receptive, then the NJOVHA or other ATV/OHV groups identify the properties to purchase and approach the DEP and Green Acres Fund for help.

He explained that the state program can serve as a model for other states. “It could work for OHV recreation all the way across the country,” said Freitas. Now, however, Freitas said that the focus is on getting support from manufacturers. “For this to work, we need manufacturer support,” he said. “We are not looking for just one park. This is something that the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) and the industry can use as a model to develop parks.”

But setting things up takes time, noted Freitas. And that is something that OHV enthusiasts don’t understand. “Environmentalists who are against us look at it as a long-term thing. When OHV groups lose a battle, they walk away. The environmentalists, on the other hand, don’t walk away if they lose a battle. They understand that it is part of a longer war, and they go on fighting. We have to install the same mindset into the ATV/OHV community and get them organized for the long term.

“A state park doesn’t happen in a year,” continued Freitas. “Some times it can take 10 to 20 years. I’ve had discussions with members of the Green Acres program about land acquisition on their part, and they tell me that they have deals that have taken 20 years to develop. Different administrations and different DEP and Green Acres Fund directors come and go and that delays the process.”

Freitas pointed out that ATVs are a fairly new phenomenon and ATVers just want to find a place to ride and not do the hard work necessary to get the land to ride on. “It takes a lot of work. You have to build up a reputation over a long period of time to be effective.”

He added that his background is with the motorcycle enduro community. “Everything is club related,” he said. “Enduro events are put on by the enduro clubs and it is all done with volunteers. The club I belonged to has been around since the 1930s. So they have built up a reputation. The members themselves may think in the present, but the club has been able to build a reputation statewide because it has been around for such a long time and so enduro racing has become an accepted form of recreation. There are nine enduro clubs that put on nine different enduro events. The state develops a relationship with these clubs because many of the events take place on state land.

“OHV/ATV enthusiasts don’t belong to clubs. So relationships don’t exist,” continued Freitas. “That is why the NJOHVA created the Atlantic Grand Prix Series. To create relationships and to try to unite the nomadic tribes of OHVers/ATVers, we get them to participate in the events and bring their friends. It grows and then turns into clubs. It helps to develop the community because they feel that they have ownership in it. And when they feel that way, they step up and participate to make things work.”

Freitas concluded that many states, especially those populated states along the eastern seaboard, have land preservation programs. However, non-profit conservation groups are taking advantage of them and buying property. “The OHV community doesn’t understand the process. They don’t know that they can get land this way. They need to become aware and create a dialog with legislators and senators and with the players who make the decisions about purchasing properties. We need to engage.”

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