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Dirt bike riders frustrated, looking for legal place to ride

Off-road enthusiasts try joining together to petition for change

Pomaika‘i Elementary School 5th-grader Enzo Ferrari, 10, rides his new 85cc Yamaha on the Maui Motocross Association track in Puunene on Wednesday afternoon. Dirt bike enthusiasts issued a petition seeking off-road trails to ride legally. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

With no plans for an off-highway-vehicle dirt park, the challenge of developing legal riding grounds has driven the riding community to petition for change.

“The problem is finding a legal sustainable place for OHV riders to enjoy their sport,” said Tom Hawk, spokesman for Maui Off Road Riders. “This has been an ongoing issue and is only getting worse as riding areas get closed off to riders and our wild areas are developed.

“It’s time. We need to work together with the Maui community and come up with a legal place for an OHV park on Maui,” Hawk added.

The Maui Off Road Riders webpage (chng.it/8qyJmkXffD) was developed at the beginning of the year to encourage the dirt-bike-riding community to get involved. There is a petition on the website for an OHV park, which has received more than 800 signatures.

“We would like to gather support and to show our representatives how many people are interested in creating a legal place to ride,” Hawk said.

There are designated OHV trails on Oahu, the Big Island and Kauai. Maui does not have dirt bike trails but does have one authorized motosports arena in Puunene. Maui Motocross Association runs the track, which usually is open Wednesdays and weekends. The track is run by the nonprofit organization of volunteers and is open to members only.

The main hurdles to developing an OHV park have to do with the site: It must be large enough, far from residential areas and not a threat to endangered species.

West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey said that there was an attempt to build an OHV park about 10 years ago, on shovel-ready land in the hills above Lahaina, but plans fell through due to community opposition and the lapsing of federal funds.

“Many people thought that we were going to put the dirt park behind the Wahikuli residential area, where we were already having a problem with illegal riders,” McKelvey said. “I think the place for them to look is far mauka, so that you don’t have the impacts of noise and dirt, and the riders can have a place to safely ride.”

Any location in Lahaina that is close to residential areas is “going to face the same kind of opposition” as in the past, he said.

Hawk’s and other riders’ ideal picture is of an OHV park with miles of motorcycle trails with hills and mud bog areas, as well as four-wheel drive roads, a picnic area, camping grounds, parking, restrooms, trailheads and a playground.

A thousand acres would get the job done, he said.

McKelvey believes building an OHV park may be possible through community efforts from the bottom up. This would involve participating in community meetings to get “ideas of what is good and what is bad, what are possible places to ride and getting feedback,” he said.

“I think the problem last time was because it was a rush,” McKelvey said. “There were no community meetings, there was no slow process, and the backlash was pretty sudden and severe.”

Riders feel like they are being forced to ride illegally with no legal place to go, Hawk said. Current off-road riding locations were not disclosed.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement has logged three off-road dirt bike violations, resulting in eight citations, from January 2018 to the present, in the Kahikinui Forest Reserve in Kula, said DLNR spokesman Dan Dennison. He said the investigations were the result of officers receiving information from their public contacts, he said.

The OHV community is seeking single-track trail riding areas similar to Kula’s terrain, preferably in lower elevations areas with enough rain, trees and brush to reduce heat and dust, Hawks said. Haiku and Waihee would be ideal.

“We would like to have fun with our kids,” he said. “We would like to keep them out of trouble, teach them something fun, teach them riding skills which help them to be safe even on public roadways, create bonds between parents and kids, and have fun all together.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.