Virgle Osborne has been four-wheeling since he was 14 years old. That’s the year his dad bought him his first Jeep. They built it together and he started driving it when he was 16. He’s four-wheeled all over the West since then, and he loves it.
He’s not alone. Douglas County has three off-highway vehicle (OHV) clubs: X-treme Offroaders, the Umpqua Valley Timber Cruisers and Ruff Country, which collectively boast about 100 active members. Another 500 or so people are indirectly affiliated with the clubs.
The trouble, Osborne said, is that there are zero miles of trails for OHV riders this side of Winchester Bay.
He and members of all three clubs think they’ve found a great place to create those trails at the abandoned former Lookingglass landfill site. Their idea won enough support at the county that the Douglas County Land Department filed for a conditional use permit to create an OHV recreational area at the site. But it’s also received a lot of pushback from the neighbors. They’re concerned about the noise of an OHV area, and about the possibility of landslides.
Osborne lives about a half mile away from the site, making him also a neighbor of the project. He said he understands the concerns, but he believes much of the criticism has been unfair.
“In the last two weeks, three weeks since this thing came out, there’s been so much negativity on the opposition side, and a lot of it’s personal, a lot of it’s been personal towards me, which I don’t get because I’m basically just a voice for the clubs, I’m not on a single mission out there,” Osborne said.
Osborne believes the site would be good for the county, and create a safe, legal space for families to recreate.
He said many of the criticisms from opponents are based on misunderstandings. For one thing, he said, the OHV-ers won’t be speeding around in the dirt and mud. That means they won’t be making as much noise as many neighbors fear, and they won’t be destabilizing the soil.
The OHV-ers plan to build up a hard trail with rocks and logs and other obstacles.
“These are trails that are going to be for slow-moving vehicles, very technical. It’s not a race track,” he said.
Some opponents of the project, including Jim Erwin, a former county public works director, said the site is unstable, pointing to multiple landslides that have occurred there in recent decades. Osborne thinks building an OHV area there will help stabilize the land because of the improvements they’ll make, including creating proper drainage.
“It’s not going to be a mud run. This thing was never developed to be a place where you’re going to go spin mud and throw mud in the air,” Osborne said. “What we’re proposing and what the public thinks we’re asking for are about the farthest thing apart.”
Fire danger would be minimal, too, he said, because the site would be closed to OHV-ers during fire season.
Osborne said the site would generate money for improvement and maintenance through user fees. Grants are also available from the state, paid for by OHV permit fees. And there will be plenty of volunteer labor, too, he said. Just as Mildred Kanipe Park users volunteer to improve that park, for example, OHV-ers would volunteer to create and maintain trails at the Lookingglass site.
Another criticism from some opponents was that the site, which is just over 200 acres, is too small. Osborne believes it’s big enough for significant buffers and about 4 or 5 miles of trails.
“We’re going to build little tight, twisty, turny trails that are going to wind through that property. They’re not going to be straight stretches. They’re going to wind up and down and around that property, and there’s more than enough room to do that,” he said.