Martha's Vineyard Airport motocross park takes off
Photo by Ralph Stewart
It is a warm, sunny day out near the Martha's Vineyard Airport. Visibility is good, winds are light from the south, and lots of people are flying.
Dressed in colorful protective clothing and helmets, riders soar off ant hills, doubles and tabletops, rollers, and "a sick whoop section" in an adrenaline rush. The high-pitched roar of their engines sounds a little like the small aircraft that glide overhead on approach to the airport.
J.J.'s MX Park is off to a flying start.
"It's a dream come true," owner J.J. Mendez said Tuesday, as he took a break from grading and shaping the new track. "It's what I've always wanted. I'll give it a whirl."
Mr. Mendez, an Oak Bluffs police officer and amateur motocross competitor, was grounded in his first attempt to organize Island motocross enthusiasts on private property at Nip 'N Tuck Farm in West Tisbury. Complaints about the noise led to a protracted political quarrel, and ended when the farm owners decided to close the track.
The new facility, on airport property at the corner of Edgartown-West Tisbury Road and Barnes Road is far from the nearest home or business. Mr. Mendez has created a circular arena with high dirt walls to keep the sound in.
He says with riders charging full bore, someone standing on the Edgartown-West Tisbury road cannot hear even a hint of the motorcycle engines.
Open for business
Mr. Mendez, who often works an overnight shift as a police officer, opens the park Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 11 am to 5 pm, and on Sunday from noon to 5 pm.
A family membership costs $800 for a year, and an individual membership is $650, with monthly and daily memberships also available.
More information about the new facility is available at jjsmotocrosspark.com.
The rules are strict. Everybody has to wear the proper protective gear from head to toe, and the bikes must be in good repair.
Mr. Mendez rides herd on the whole operation, 20 minutes at a time.
"I'll have a beginners class," Mr. Mendez said. "Then I'll have adult classes, split between advanced and beginner."
A fair crowd has gathered on recent weekends to watch the spectacle. The track is drawing some who once rode in West Tisbury.
"The same people, plus some new faces," Mr. Mendez said. "Random people come up and say 'thanks for doing this.'"
Mr. Mendez is an accomplished rider, competing in local amateur events throughout New England, and national competitions in New York, Pennsylvania, California, and Arizona.
"I've been riding since I was nine years old," Mr. Mendez said. "I've been competing for the last nine years."
He offers advice, support, and instruction to adults, but his biggest smile is reserved for kids, who begin on low powered motorcycles and flat terrain. Often the kids don't fit in traditional sports programs.
"It's for the kids everybody forgets," Mr. Mendez said. "They don't play baseball, football, hockey. It gives them an outlet."
Off the ground
Informal use of the Nip 'N Tuck property by dirt bike enthusiasts led to more organized activity supervised by Mr. Mendez in the fall of 2010 and the winter of 2011. But it also led to complaints from some neighbors.
In an opinion he delivered to selectmen on November 3, 2010, zoning inspector Ernest Mendenhall said the organized activity did not violate town bylaws.
Neighbors appealed that decision to the West Tisbury zoning board of appeals. Ultimately, the track closed.
The new location is in a section of the airport where construction materials are stockpiled.
Airport manager Sean Flynn said the airport has no other use for the property. The airport allows the riders to use the area under specific conditions that provide for 30-day termination and regular review intended to address any problems, should they develop.
When the project went before the airport commission it received letters of support from the West Tisbury Conservation Commission, Edgartown Police Department, and the Martha's Vineyard Law Enforcement Council.
Also offering support was Friends of the Greenlands, a group that supports a 360-acre preserve that borders the state forest. The Greenlands is owned by the town of West Tisbury, and dirt bikes are often ridden there illegally.
Edgartown police chief Tony Bettencourt wrote that he thinks there is a growing number of dirt bike riders on the Island and that if there were a designated area for the riders, "It would decrease the number of bikes trespassing on private property and in the state forest."
For now, all parties seem pleased with the new arrangement.