By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
It was at his prodding that OHV users showed up to the public hearing wearing red, hoping their presence would stand out and send a message to the Land Department. "We don't have an agenda -- we're a recreational group," he says. "We don't fight for land, but we're starting to have to."
Bickauskas starts up his dirt bike for a ride on State Trust land near Pima and Dynamite roads. His is the most high-tech, quietest bike on the market, and still it's so loud you have to shout to be heard over it. Riding on it is hard to classify as a nature experience in the truest sense -- it's more like a roller coaster ride through the desert. But Bickauskas claims to be a lover of nature. He comes to a vantage point at the top of a hill, turns off the bike and dismounts.
"Just take a look around," he says. "This is why we come out here."
But others have come out here to live. It isn't just the preservationists who want to regulate access to this land. It's also homeowners in the area who have carved out their piece of desert, and don't want anyone else on it.
Tim Montgomery's home is located about a quarter-mile from the parcel the city wants to preserve. He says he's "not some crazy environmentalist," just a homeowner who wants some peace.
In the past five years, Montgomery says he's seen traffic increase eightfold. In addition to the noise from construction trucks and builders when he sits on his back patio, he has to contend with OHV noise. "Almost always on Sundays it's really peaceful except for the constant whining," he says.
Last Thanksgiving he called the police on three pickups racing through the washes. "I swear they were all drunk -- very noisy and undisciplined."
Montgomery says he would like to see the land use limited to people on foot. He says there is simply a point when enough is enough.
"There's a certain character and quality of life that is evaporating like it's a hot sunny day in July in Arizona," he says. "It's an openness, a sense of nature and untouched beauty."
The untouched beauty is evaporating, along with the view from his back patio. Montgomery has organized along with other homeowners in the area who have the same concerns. "We have gotten together, had meetings and strategized about how we can fight -- and that's the word you have to use -- to ensure this part of the Valley gets preserved," he says.
Bickauskas claims stereotyping all dirt bikers as "a bunch of yahoos" is an unfair tactic, and compares his plight to the most extreme historical tragedy.
"Every cause needs its whipping boy," he says. "Hitler rallied around the Jews. Environmentalists around the dirt bikers."
Playground politics are played out in a sterile, stale conference room during a meeting of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission at Scottsdale's City Hall. Carla will be the "environmental bully," OHV users the skinny kids with glasses. The meeting is hypothetical: The commission is discussing potential rules and regulations should the State Land Department decide to conserve the parcel. The OHV users are hoping the commission will reconsider banning them from the preserve.
"The only way we see we can continue to ride is to become political like the environmentalists," Gursh explains, comparing the conflict to the Israelites versus the Palestinians. "Thirty years ago if you were an environmentalist, you were a kook. Now they have power, and dirt bikers are marginalized."
Ethan Goodrich of Steve Hatch Motorcycle Adventures, who may be the only one with a legitimate discrimination claim, takes a more moderate tone. "Carla only wants to let herself and a few friends in," Goodrich says. "But I can't go to this area unless I have a motorized vehicle. It's a big ADA issue in a roundabout way."
Goodrich has been in a wheelchair since a dirt bike race in the spring of 1992. He hit a tree head-on at 35 miles an hour and exploded a vertebrae. "If I had it to do over, I wouldn't change anything," he says. "Obviously I'd rather not be in a wheelchair, but I wouldn't change it if it meant I would have never ridden."
Carla opens the meeting by reiterating that the purpose tonight is not to revisit the proposed ban on motorized vehicles, prompting eye rolling and audible sighs from Gursh. The purpose of tonight's meeting is to discuss what commercial uses will potentially be allowed in the preserve if the state land is reclassified as suitable for conservation. Of course, Jeep tour operations are one of the user groups. Given the ban on motorized vehicles, it would seem a foregone conclusion that Jeeps would be banned. But alienating the Scottsdale tourism industry is out of the question, a hypocrisy that gives other OHV riders fits.
Another tour operator who stands to lose access to this land is Todd Masden, who runs Cave Creek Outfitters with partner Cheryl Ward. Theirs is a horse tour company located on this State Trust land in North Scottsdale. They have made their living doing tours on this land for the past seven years. Masden is attending the meeting to plead his case for continued access. Rather than striking an alliance with the banned OHV group, Masden points out that they should be blamed for wrecking the land -- not him.