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Justin Bauer, 12, of Santa Rosa, gets his motorcycle ready at the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area in Tracy, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. The California State Parks' Off Highway Vehicle division has plans to use the nearby coal mining town of Tesla and the 3.500 acre area to expand the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area. However, a group called "Save Tesla Park," opposes the expansion. The group wants the land designated as a low-impact recreation park, and historic and natural resource preserve.(Doug Duran/Staff)

TRACY -- More than 200 equally passionate off-road riders and environmentalists packed Tracy High's cafeteria on Monday night for California Department of Parks and Recreation's unveiling of three concepts for expanded off-highway vehicle use at the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area east of Livermore.

For the third time in 16 years, the parks department is hammering out a general plan for the future of the 4,400-acre Alameda-Tesla parcel it owns adjacent to the popular Carnegie park. The agency intends to open sections of the property to off-highway vehicles, an idea drawing cheers from riders -- who say they need more room to recreate -- and jeers from environmental groups and preservationists.

Parts of the property include the historic mining town of Tesla, and other areas home to culturally and ecologically significant sites.

Off-road enthusiasts showed up in force for Monday's public workshop, where parks officials presented three concepts, ranging from very little off-highway development, using mostly existing routes for off-highway vehicles (Concept 1), to heavy use (Concept 3) with dense, multiuse trails for a variety of off-road vehicles, a four-wheel-drive area and new campsites. Concept 2 includes Recreational Off-highway Vehicle (ROV) trails and a visitors' center at the Tesla site.


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Most riders said they preferred the third concept, described as the "most diverse" use for the area. Jim Nelson, one of many riders sporting an "I Own Carnegie" sticker, is a member of a motorcycle and dirt bike club out of Concord and visits Carnegie at least once a week.

"We're trying to get these areas open to us," Nelson said. "Carnegie needs to be bigger ... New ridership is climbing, and a bigger area makes it safer."

Attendees received informational packets on the proposals, along with comment cards. They viewed slideshows of the general plan process and visited stations with large color maps of each proposal, where consultants answered questions ranging from the simple to the contentious.

The workshop drew multiple generations of riders, who said they enjoy Carnegie for camping, riding and family recreation. Kenny Sandahl, 41, a Carnegie regular from Livermore, brought his daughters Hannah, 11, and Emily, 10, who have ridden dirt bikes at the park since they were barely out of diapers.

"Our sport has grown, and they keep taking it away from us," Sandahl said. "I'd give up my riding to open up this land for the kids."

None of the concepts satisfied expansion's most active opponents, the Livermore-based "Friends of Tesla Park" group headed by Celeste Garamendi, who has a family ranch near Carnegie. The group and its supporters vehemently objected to the exclusion of a concept proposing no off-highway use.

"It's completely inappropriate," Garamendi said. "It was my impression that a non-OHV option would be included ... These concepts don't do that."

Garamendi said her coalition would analyze the information in greater detail and continue to meet with the parks department on a non-OHV option. "From a historical and cultural perspective, there can't be any influence of OHVs in these areas," she added.

Others expressed concerns about the potential disruption off-highway riding could have on plant and animal life in an "important ecological corridor" in the Alameda-Tesla property.

"There's a mix of animals and plants you don't see in other parts of California," said Peter Rauch, a Berkeley biologist with the California Native Plant Society. "If you're going to attempt to preserve the natural history, you don't want to do any activity to that area that destroys it."

Those disappointed with the options will wait for the environmental review process, where, according to Carnegie's superintendent Randy Caldera, a non-OHV concept would be released. Trail locations, he said, won't be determined until meetings with regulatory agencies.

Overall, parks officials considered the meeting a success, with a far greater turnout than other similar workshops, according to Chris Huitt, OHV division's environmental program manager.

Huitt said the agency has received hundreds of public comments on Carnegie and, over the next few months, it will develop a preferred alternative and begin the environmental process.

"The amount of public participation is unique," Huitt said. "People love the area; and they love to ride."

Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.

SEE PLANS FOR CARNEGIE
To view the three general plan concept alternatives proposed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation for the Carnegie State Vehicular Area, including maps, visit http://carnegie.engage-sites.com.