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Crossing the line'

Neighbors are crying foul over a Ruch-area property owner's extensive motocross track

RUCH ' When Mike and Karen Higgins bought their rural property six years ago, they were drawn by the quiet beauty of the Applegate Valley.

They didn't mind the sounds of chain saws, farm tractors or periodic gunshots.

But they draw the line at what is billed as Oregon's newest, largest, extreme motocross park at 9800 Highway 238.

It's a raspy, harsh noise ' rat-i-tat-tat-tat, said Mike Higgins, a retired wine merchant. The noise must be part of the off-road culture. I could imagine loving it if I were 14 or 15.

— I'm 67, he added. This is the time in my life when I want to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. This is a horrible intrusion on what I expected would be peace and quiet.

But Jim rne, 49, owner of the nearly 100-acre parcel being developed into the off-roads vehicle park, said he has no intention of bothering his neighbors.

The neighbors are doing what they want with their land, he said. Why can't I do what I want, as long as it's not bothering anybody?

I'm not trying to be a jerk about it, he added. I want to get along with everyone. But I guess sometimes that's not always so easy.

At issue is where one person's property rights end and the rights of another begin.

The park's inaugural opening was held early this month, albeit it was largely rained out. Another event is planned for early May, followed by six others throughout the year.

Although a flier for that event indicated participants would be charged, rne said park visitors will be asked to donate to the nonprofit Morris rne Foundation for Southern Oregon Farm Aid.

The late Morris rne, who died in 1996, was Jim rne's father. A descendant of local pioneers, he left the parcel to his son who has unsuccessfully tried to sell it for &

36;850,000. The property is zoned exclusive farm use.

The Higginses are among more than a dozen local residents up in arms over the motocross park, citing noise, traffic, degradation of the land and potential for declining property values.

They are worried the park will draw hundreds of off-road vehicles, creating everything from health problems to traffic congestion in the pastoral valley.

Retired schoolteacher Phyllis Johns and her husband, Bob, have lived in the area for 27 years. Bob Johns works a swing shift part of the year, requiring that he sleep during the day.

We're very distressed about this, Phyllis Johns said. There was one Sunday afternoon when I tried to work in my garden. But it was so loud over there. It was awful.

David and Caye Ingles, a retired couple who have lived in the area for 15 years, also are upset by the park's presence.

The noise, the destruction of a beautiful piece of property, the unsightly mess, the traffic problem on Highway 238 ' those are the issues we're concerned about, Caye Ingles said, adding that local property values will drop.

rne, who was operating a bulldozer Monday to carve out a softball diamond which he said will be part of the park, reiterated that he wants to be a good neighbor.

Although noting he has heard some concerns, rne said he also has heard plenty of positive input.

There have been more good responses than bad ones by far, he said of the former ranch property. I don't have any cattle. I can't subdivide the property. So what do you do? I want to keep the property.

A county representative visited the property several times, and told him it was legit as long as it was nonprofit, he said.

We're following all the rules, rne insisted, noting he is leasing the property to another individual to operate the park. This is a nonprofit deal. People can make a donation, but we're not charging any fee.

That will help pay taxes and give the kids some place to go and something to do, he added. In this day and age, it seems like it's harder and harder to find a place for kids to have any fun. This will help keep kids off drugs. A family man will be able to come out and spend time with his kids here.

The dirt tracks will reduce fire hazards come summer, he said.

We don't have it quite in yet ' everything isn't done, he said. But it's starting to come together.

But not if Higgins and other neighbors have a say in the matter.

Property rights are not absolute ' there is a balance, said Higgins who attended law school after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley.

His research indicates that the planned park is not permissible on rne's exclusive farm use property.

If the county doesn't act on a request by the neighbors to stop the motocross activity, they may file a private nuisance lawsuit, he said.

The law of nuisance is the balancing between rights, he said. That includes the rights of adjacent or nearby property owners to use and enjoy their property without it being interfered with by a private nuisance.

Even if the use on the rne property were deemed legal, a nuisance lawsuit would still be valid, he believes.

We feel quite strongly that this (activity) won't stand, he said. We think we would win.

But Higgins hopes to avoid going to court.

I've never had any serious conflict with any neighbor before, he said, noting that he doesn't have a problem with most rural noises.

But you don't expect a dirt-bike motocross to open up in your front yard, he added.

All Jackson County and the BLM can do is check for illegal uses DAMIAN MANN

Government officials recently warned a Ruch resident against holding a commercial motocross event, but determined nothing can be done to block creation of massive trail systems on private property.

There is very little in the county code that would prevent you from doing that, unless you have wetlands, said Ali Turiel, county planning director.

However, the Bureau of Land Management investigated a bulldozer trail that led a half-mile off the property onto federal land and cited the owner of the 100 acres, Jim rne, for resource damage, said Steve Shrader, BLM district law enforcement ranger.

rne, who has created four miles of trails on his property adjacent to Highway 238, allowed a motocross event to be held there on April 3-6.

In a separate investigation, Todd Miller, Jackson County code enforcement officer, said the county warned rne against holding commercial events.

Miller said that if the event was held as advertised in a flier, rne would be in violation of county rules because an admission fee was sought from participants.

As for the trails rne created on his property, county officials say little can be done about it.

There is no law against bulldozing trails, he said.

Tearing up land zoned exclusive farm use also is not a violation, said Miller. If you had 2,000 pigs out there, it would also cause a lot of damage, he said.

Organizers of the event have told county officials that they weren't asking for an admission fee as indicated in the flier, but did accept donations.

County Administrator Sue Slack said officials will look at regulations governing the sale of alcohol and public health issues at the motocross event.

The flier indicates there was a live band, barbecue chicken and a beer garden.

The county plans to investigate whether the event violates ordinances that prohibit commercial use on private property.

It depends on whether it meets the definition of a commercial event or a large party, Slack said.

BLM officials also investigated the motocross park, which is near sensitive wilderness areas off-limits to off-road vehicles.

Shrader said there was evidence the tractor had graded some BLM land about a year ago, when a controlled burn got out of control.

But new cleat marks could be clearly seen on the federal land, he said.

It didn't take a rocket scientist to follow the cleats to rne's house, said Shrader.

There were also fresh motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle tracks on BLM land, but Shrader said they probably originated from the China Gulch area.

He did find damage to habitat from off-road vehicle users who cut limbs and brush to make trails, which Shrader speculates could be used for mushroom hunting.

Shrader said these trails didn't appear to be linked to rne's property.

Ed Reilly, environmental resource planner with the BLM, said that when his office learned of the motocross track it posted signs in the adjacent BLM land, alerting people that they can't ride in streams, sensitive plant areas or fragile soil areas.

The area is open to foot traffic, but not to vehicles, he said.

However other parts of BLM land that aren't deemed sensitive can be accessed by motorcycles through the 100-acre property, he said.

If an area is not marked as off-limits, then it is available for off-road vehicle use, he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail

This recent aerial photograph shows motocross trails carved into a 100-acre parcel off Highway 238 near Ruch. Owner Jim Byrne's neighbors are upset with his plans to make it a regular venue for dirt bikes.