Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What kind of park needs a $50,000 patrol vehicle?

Apparently park rangers at Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area, a California park designed off road driving enthusiasts, receives a new $50,000 Land Rover SUV to patrol the park in each year.

While I'm a little jealous of the ride, I'd probably sell the Land Rover and buy two pickup trucks, an ORV, and a mountain bike to use for patrols. Heck I would still probably have enough left over for a year's worth of gas.

I'm just glad that I don't have to work at an off-road park. The smell of partially burned hydrocarbons mixed with musky testosterone makes me feel nauseous. I guess that shouldn't be surprising since I never really enjoyed snapping naked guys with a rolled up towel in the locker room either. That's just the way I am.

Head for the Hills (Hollister Free Lance)

Mike Stavro doesn't break a sweat when he's spinning the wheels of a donated luxury Sport Utility Vehicle while trying to climb up a dusty, rock-strewn hill at what seems like a 45-degree angle. Its just another day at the office. But for Stavro, a ranger at Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area, the office is a Land
Rover LR3 and his workplace is one most popular parks in the state for off-road driving.

The 3,200-acre state park attracts about 300,000 visitors annually and is considered "the Disneyland of off-highway riding," according to Chief Ranger Jeff Gaffney. In addition to miles and miles of trails, the park offers camping, picnic areas, a practice Motocross track, an ATV track and a mini-bike track. Elevations ranging from 660 feet to 2,425 feet above sea level make Hollister Hills an ideal off-road park for both amateurs and professionals, Gaffney said.

Even during the hot and dusty off-season at Hollister Hills thousands of visitors from across the country are drawn to the park's 88 miles of off-road, dirt bike and all-terrain vehicle trails each weekend.

Hollister Hills is divided into two sections. The 800-acre Upper Ranch is reserved for four-wheel drive vehicles, while the 2,400-acre Lower Ranch is for ATVs and dirt bikes. Visitors can spend the day spinning their wheels and kicking up dust in either section of the park for $5. But the majority of visitors spend the weekend at one the park's several dozen camp grounds for $10 a night. "It's the cheapest fun you can have on two, three or four wheels," veteran Hollister Hills Park Ranger Mike Stavro said. "Most people come for the whole weekend."

Hollister Hills is also testing site for Land Rover North America and the proving grounds for Four Wheeler Magazine's annual Top Truck Challenge. Land Rover North America even donates one of its SUVs to the park each year. It started donating vehicles after a company executive visited the park and learned that state officials wouldn't allow rangers to spend money on anything other than Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet trucks, Stavro said. Hollister Hills Park Rangers can be spotted driving around in a $50,000 2006 Land Rover LR3 while on routine patrols in the Upper Ranch this season, the fourth such vehicle donated by the company.

And while only the best of best attempt Hollister Hills' Tank Trap trail, the park has other trails for the novice and faint of heart, Gaffney said. Although the majority of visitors spend their time on motorcycles and ATVs in the Lower Ranch, the Upper Ranch is becoming more and more popular. "We've started to see a lot of 4x4s in the last few years, ever since SUVs became popular," Gaffney said. "But still the majority of (Hollister Hills) users come with motorcycles."

Off-road enthusiast Mike Matheson does both. The 52-year-old San Jose resident has been coming to Hollister Hills since the park opened in 1975. Matheson, depending on the season and his mood, will either bring his 1975 Toyota FJ40 or his Yamaha bike. "I'm not one of those tear-em-up guys," Matheson said. "I just like to go out there and enjoy the trails." Matheson, who visits the park about 20 times a year, said he keeps coming back because Hollister Hills is nearby and well-maintained. "It's a good place," he said. "And it's not one of the hard-core (off-road) places. Anyone can have fun out there." Dirt biking and off-roading is often a family activity, Stavro said. And Hollister Hills has become a frequent family vacation destination. "People come back again and again. They love it," Stavro said. "It's a family sport. We have families that come here, raise their kids here and then their kids grow up and bring their own family here. It's awesome."

Hollister Hills, the first of six State Vehicular Recreation Areas in California, was bought by the state in 1975 from local rancher Howard Harris, who built the majority of the park's trails and operated it privately for many years, Stavro said. The state opened the park to the public on Oct. 1, 1975 and it is paid for largely by gas taxes.

Peak season at Hollister Hills is in fall and winter months, when temperatures drop and rain is more frequent. "The first weekend there is moisture on the ground, it's a zoo," Stavro said. "They call it 'Ego Dirt.' You have so much traction that you ride like a pro." In 2005, the park had to close its gates six times when too many visitors showed up, Gaffney said. This summer, construction began on two new off-road areas, which are being dubbed the "East Ranch" and "West Ranch," on recently acquired park land. The two new areas will keep lifelong visitors on their toes and ensure that the park holds its ground as one of the premier SVRAs in California, Stavro said.

1 comment:

The Virtual Ranger said...

Oh, but Land-Rovers are great (that's a Range Rover in your pic, btw). I used to own one, and whilst they rust, they break down, and they are noisy they sure can drive offroad like nothing on earth. And tow a big trailer. And go through water, and all that stuff. It's no contest - that's why they are more expensive than the other sorts.

I don't think I'd like to work in that sort of park either, you're right. But if they offered me a big, new Range Rover to play in... well, let them try. Perhaps I'd be tempted.