OHV park under criticism

A proposed 956-acre park along Highway 41 west of O’Neals has begun to draw criticism from a group concerned over potentially detrimental and costly effects to the foothills community.

The land in question, unanimously approved for purchase Nov. 3 by the Madera County Board of Supervisors, stretches from the northern boundary of Minarets High School to east of Highway 41 across from Black Hawk Lodge.

It is envisioned as an eventual host of everything from off-highway vehicle (OHV) contests to extreme obstacle courses and other outdoor sports.

Though several county officials have said the land will become a county moneymaker, members of Citizens Against Proposed OHV Park-Madera County claim the opposite.

“The cost would be astronomical for taxpayers in Madera County,” said Barbara Bigelow, who created the group’s Facebook page late last month. “It means we’ll need to pay for improving Highway 41, have to deal with increased noise, increased pollution, increased fire dangers, and require more law enforcement.”

Bigelow, wife of state Assemblyman Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals), said the group has several other concerns related to the land that, if fully constructed, will be more than triple the size of Fresno’s Woodward Park.

“We’re concerned taxpayer funds are being spent on something that the Board of Supervisors haven’t shown a need for,” Bigelow said. “As a group, we believe it would make sense for the county to identify the need for an OHV park and properly inform the public.”

At a total price of $2.39 million, the county will pay $311,700 for the land previously owned by Margaret Jamison. The rest is covered by state and federal grants.

Bigelow said despite those grants, the long-term costs of developing the park, such as increasing access on Highway 41, have yet to be addressed.

Plus, she added, landowners adjacent to land - many including herself as cattle ranchers who keep herds nearby - were never informed about the proposed park.

“This was kind of done behind the scenes,” Bigelow said. “We just think there’s a lot of issues here that need to be discussed. We aren’t opposed to an OHV park, but we’re opposed to the process that’s being followed here.”

The group plans on holding a community meeting in the near future, but has yet to determine a time or location.

Bill Hayter, the county’s grant writer, said construction grants for certain parks could be submitted by September of 2017 at best, following environmental studies and design plans for park trails.

Construction would then come in phases for around three to five years, Hayter said.

Eric Fleming, the county’s Chief Administrative Officer, said plans are in their beginning stages and as designs for the park are developed, they’ll be submitted to the board for public discussion and potential approval.

Details: Citizens Against Proposed OHV Park-Madera County Facebook page, (case-sensitive).