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September 25, 2007 > These hills are alive

These hills are alive

Motorcycles, ATVs and ATCs and spectators are welcome at Motorcycle Park

On hillsides tucked between ranchlands and parklands, a unique destination lies near the summit of a winding two-lane road off Highway 101 in Santa Clara County. The muted roar of engines responding to gear ratios set for demanding terrain echoes through the desolate hills. As visitors crest the last hilltop of their trip, they get their first glimpse of a myriad of trails and venues for motor sports enthusiasts riding motorcycles and All Terrain Vehicles along well-marked trails that provide fun and challenges for every level of riding ability. Santa Clara County's Motorcycle Park is in a different world, high above the busy cities, commuters and high density developments of Silicon Valley. Here, the air is cleaner and a sense of open space presides.

This land, once the province of Ohlone Indians and later Mexican land grants, passed between ranchers until the advent of the South Valley Freeway (US 101). Land parcels traded hands until Santa Clara County acquired and eventually designated 227 acres for a motorcycle park. In 1982, an additional 215 acres was added to the site. Originally leased for quarter midget racing, the park closed due to insurance issues in 1988 but reopened in 1990 under the auspices of the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department.

Ranger Mike Ruhstorfer has been working at this unusual county park for the past seven years. When he patrols these grounds, leather protective gear is the uniform of the day and two wheels take him to the far reaches of the park. As one of only three motorcycle parks near the Bay Area, people come from far and wide to ride the trails of Motorcycle Park. Thursday through Monday, motorcycle enthusiasts with off-street and dual sport motorcycles, All Terrain Vehicles (4 wheels) and All Terrain Cycles (3 wheels) can be seen on the challenging terrain. Public use of trails for any other off road vehicles is prohibited. However, on days the park is closed to the public (Tuesday and Wednesday), Ruhstorfer says that the park is not always empty. "We do a lot of training up here; 4x4 training with West Valley College, Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department, San Jose Fire Department and Santa Clara County Fire Department."

Training to ride safely is available at Motorcycle Park through Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF); Park Ranger Ruhstorfer is a certified MSF trainer for dirt bike handling and safety and holds classes on Tuesday. ATV training available through All Terrain Vehicle Safety Institute (ASI) is also available at the park once a month on Saturday afternoons. Ruhstorfer, a certified ASI instructor, teaches county employees in this sport but other instructors are available for public classes. Both MSF and ASI are nationally recognized programs with standardized curriculum. Ruhstorfer emphasizes that riding etiquette is a large and extremely important part of these programs.

All riders who enter Motorcycle Park are required to register and sign a waiver form. There is a $6 parking fee at the park. First time visitors will usually find Sarah Clay behind the desk fielding questions, pointing out trails on the map and explaining rules and amenities of the park. Out on the trails, Linc Shallenberger grooms the trails and maintains the park. During the year, about 60,000 riders will use Motorcycle Park, sometimes accompanied by non-riders who use the picnic facilities and watch from bleachers and observation areas near the beginner novice oval, MX track or the Quarter Midget Track. The busiest seasons are fall, winter and spring. Although the park is open during rainy periods, many of the trails are closed due to conditions of the clay soil. Ruhstorfer notes that most trails will be operable about 24 hours after the rain stops. This gives the ground time to absorb the moisture.

Trails are all marked according to skill level at Motorcycle Park. Ruhstorfer says that the black diamond trails are very narrow - 12" - 18" wide - for expert riders are restricted to motorcycles only. Other trails can accommodate ATV and motorcycle riders. Riding direction on all trails is one way only.

For those who decide to watch the action from a safe distance while enjoying an afternoon in the sun, there is a picnic area and good views of trails and beginner venues. Although the terrain is rugged, there are flush toilets and vending machines. Also, on weekends, a catering truck sets up shop nearby. Shade structures dot the area and bleachers are placed in strategic locations. Visitors can barbeque, but pit fires are not allowed. Alcohol is not allowed in the park. Men and women, boys and girls can all be found riding along the trails, but Ruhstorfer says some friends and family members prefer to just "kick back, relax and read a book." Hiking and bicycling is prohibited at Motorcycle Park but is available at nearby locations.

Capacity of Motorcycle Park is determined by the parking lot. When the lot is full, the park is closed until someone leaves and their space can be filled by another vehicle. When this happens, a sign is usually posted before someone tackles the twists and turns of Metcalf Road. Although the park is typically open throughout the year, there are a few days when a major event may close it to free use by the public. One such event, the "Hare Scrambles" will occur on Saturday, October 13 and Sunday, October 14. On that weekend, parking is limited and spectator fees will be enforced. The park will be closed for general public use Friday, Saturday and Sunday that weekend.

Motorcycle Park has created a safe and well regulated environment for all skill levels. The county park system has worked hard to allow this sport to exist and thrive in these hills with minimal disruption to environmentally sensitive areas. Sound suppression equipment, spark arrestors and registration are required for vehicles used in the park. Department of Transportation motorcycle approved helmets are required and protective clothing is strongly advised. At Motorcycle Park, visitors will find young riders at age 6 at one end of the spectrum and 89 year old John Bettencourt and son, Leonard who ride their ATVs every Monday and Thursday at the other with just about every age in between. Motorcycle Park's well groomed trails supervised by staff and trail watch patrols are ready for enthusiasts to pop the clutch and go dirt biking!

Motorcycle County Park
300 Metcalf Rd., San Jose
(Off Monterey Highway)
(408) 226-5223
www.parkhere.org

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