Off-highway vehicle enthusiasts in Kern County may soon have something to cheer about after years of stagnation.
Kern County officials announced Wednesday the General Services Department had been awarded a $380,000 grant to begin searching for a location for a new OHV park.
“This is a great opportunity, and it’s something that I think a lot of people are really happy and excited for after all this time,” said David Walker, a local proponent who helped lead the push for the park. “It’s been a long time, but now there’s finally movement. It’s going in the right direction.”
For years, local drivers of dirt bikes and ATVs have said that no legal place to drive the vehicles exists within close proximity of Bakersfield.
While some parks exist in Tulare County and on the edges of Kern, OHV drivers have been known to illegally trespass on public and private land to take part in their hobby.
“What (the park) is going to do, is it will relieve tensions of people that are riding out in the foothills where they shouldn’t be riding,” said James Robertson, sales manager for Fred Cummings Motorsports. “Hopefully it will be family oriented, and at least be close by. So within 10 or 15 minutes you can be out and having a good time with your family.”
The grant will allow the county to hire a consultant to find a potential location for the park.
At first, land that is already owned by the county will be considered, with officials only looking beyond if the search yields no results.
“There’s going to be a lot of different groups that have different opinions so we want to make sure that we use an expert,” said Carl Brewer, Senior CAO Manager for the General Services Division.
The grant requires that the location be within 100 miles of Bakersfield, but OHV advocates hope for it to be much closer.
“It’s got to be close enough that you can get to it, and it’s got to be far enough away that it’s not going to be a nuisance,” Walker said.
Efforts to create a park have started and stopped with little success for at least 15 years.
In 2006, county officials approved an 11,000-acre location at Wofford Ranch north of Bakersfield for an OHV park only to have the state kill the project after the property’s soil was determined to be likely contaminated with valley fever and other issues were discovered.
Environmentalist groups opposed the 2006 park location, citing concerns over air quality and potential damage to nearby Poso Creek.
The new location could inflame similar concerns.
The county hopes to find the new location by the end of the year, and the state’s grant will cover the environmental impact report for the new site.
If the environmental report indicates few issues with the area, the county will pursue another grant from the state to build the park itself.
“I think it’s a big win for the community,” Brewer said. “The OHV community has been fighting for this for a long time.”