Rec Room

Squeezed out by developers and environmentalists, recreational users gird for a rumble in the desert.

"The people we have the most trouble with besides the shooters are the OHVs," Masden says.

"They scare your horses?" Gursh asks.

"My horses are used to it," Masden replies. "It's not the bikes, it's the people on the bikes."

"This is Scottsdale's last chance to do something right -- to save this land," says Nena Henry, president of the Rio Verde Horsemen's Association.
Paolo Vescia
"This is Scottsdale's last chance to do something right -- to save this land," says Nena Henry, president of the Rio Verde Horsemen's Association.
A Jeep navigates obstacles at the Arizona State Association of 4-Wheel-Drive Clubs' "show me" trail ride.
Paolo Vescia
A Jeep navigates obstacles at the Arizona State Association of 4-Wheel-Drive Clubs' "show me" trail ride.

Gursh argues that there will always be that 2 percent of irresponsible users, and Carla makes the point that those irresponsible users are the reason land management is necessary.

"You don't manage for the responsible people, you manage for the idiots," she says. Later, she states her belief that the idiot population is disproportionately high in the OHV community.

"I bet if you took a survey, you'd find it's more than 2 percent of the dirt bikers," Carla says.

Gursh shifts in his seat, and his voice starts to take on a panicked, defensive tone. He's feeling like a black man again. As he launches into a soliloquy in defense of his people, Carla cuts him off. She reiterates the fact that this meeting is not about revisiting the OHV ban, to which Gursh lets out another heavy sigh and pipes down.

After the meeting Carla and Gursh approach, each armed with their own set of photos of the trust land, with a different version of what each picture means. Gursh's photos show mountain bike marks and horse hooves, claiming they cause just as much damage to the land. Carla has photos of mangled saguaros, whose demise she blames on dirt bikes.

Gursh levels the accusation that Carla wants to turn this land into wilderness, which she denies and states "it's been a long day and I don't need this."

They follow each other into the parking lot, bickering, until Carla finally drives away.

"I'm not a politician, she is," Gursh says as he stomps to his car. "I'm not polished enough at this. My wife would like to see me, too, but I spend all my time doing this. It's supposed to be about recreation."

Motorized off-highway vehicles, whether it's four-by-fours, ATVs or dirt bikes, are the only recreation group that will be explicitly banned from the preserve. The city's petition states it will allow for "passive" recreation activities, which would seem to leave climbers, mountain bikers and equestrians in the clear. However, in an attempt to draw alliances, members of the OHV community have tried to convince other recreation groups that they may be the next to go.

"We're just the first and easiest group to pick on," says Goodrich. "We won't be the last."

Gursh says he thinks once the city has control of the land, it will kick everyone off, and for this reason it's important to band together.

"None of the user groups have come together. The mountain bikers don't like the dirt bikers. Dirt bikers don't like mountain bikers. Hikers don't like anybody; equestrians squash everybody. If we could get together, imagine what we could do."

Off-highway vehicle users' best chance for an ally is in the commercial outfits that also stand to lose access to the preserve. The city is still deciding whether it will allow people like Todd Masden and Cheryl Ward to continue doing business on the land. Because of this, Masden says he feels a certain sympathy for Gursh's plight.

"We'd rather not see the OHVs out there -- on the other hand, [these] guys are getting pushed around just like we are," he says.

The OHV users might have had a potential ally in Masden, if his territorialism didn't run so deep. "I feel sorry for the dirt bikers, but I don't want them on my trails."

There's the not-in-my-backyard mentality, and then there's the not-on-my-trails mentality.

Masden is dressed in blue jeans, blue button-down work shirt and tan cowboy hat, and a steady stream of cigarettes dangle from his bushy mustache as he rides "his trails." He complained about OHV use to the State Land Department and got it to put up signs restricting use on certain trails. Masden claims the signs were ripped out of the ground, and one was stolen. He blames the dirt bikers.

It's not only the mentality that bothers Masden, he also believes OHV use is more damaging to the land.

"I'm sorry, but the dirt bikes and mountain bikes do more damage than the horses," he states, saying the vegetation regenerates after about two years from horse use.

As the various recreational groups vie for most favored environmental status, they all point fingers at each other.

"The horse is the original OHV," Bickauskas, of the trail riders, says. "You probably compact soil more with a 1,200-pound horse than with a 225-pound dirt bike."

Kevin Lockart, of the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona, claims mountain bikes don't cause much more damage than hikers. He blames the dirt bikes.

"The trails are actually pretty destroyed," he says. "But that's the nature of the power of motorcycles."

Climber Paul Diefenderfer points out that everyone has an impact.

"No one snowflake thinks it's part of the avalanche," he says. "Desert and wild places are being crushed and everyone is part of the problem."

Members of the climbing community don't fear they will lose access to this land if the city takes it over, only that their access may be limited to certain trails. Many climbers see the claim that all groups will eventually be banned as a baseless scare tactic. Still, even the most benign activities don't fly under the environmental radar these days.

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