Saturday, Sept. 8, 2007 | Ed Stovin isn’t your everyday land-use activist.

As developers grapple over whether San Diego’s soil should be used to house condos, warehouses or homes and environmentalists seek to quarantine areas to protect endangered species, Stovin just wants a place to ride his motorcycle.

As president of the San Diego Off-Road Coalition, and a 31-year motocross veteran, Stovin works around the clock to preserve San Diego lands for what his organization’s newsletter dubs “The Endangered Off-Roader.”

Since Stovin bought his first dirt bike in 1976, he’s watched San Diego’s off-road tracks shut down one-by-one. Today, the closest legal spot to take his bike is 50 miles away in Corral Canyon in the Cleveland National Forest.

We caught up with Stovin to talk about his qualms with environmentalists, his affinity for Republicans, and one of his worst spills ever, which nearly left him paralyzed.

How did you first get into off-roading?

Well in my old neighborhood, when I was a kid, in the early-to-mid ’70s, everybody had dirt bikes and people would ride right out of the house and into the canyons, and they’d go to the deserts, and it was really big. … It was all around me and it just grabbed me, but my parents wouldn’t have anything to do with it. My dad was kind of a city boy and he said I had to wait until I was old enough to get my own.

So once you finally got a bike, what did your parents think?

Well they said it was OK to get one. I was 16. And I saved money mowing lawns and bought a little Yamaha 175 — a ’72 CT 175 — for 250 bucks. Now, my best friend and his buddy both had dirt bikes. And first Don got one and then Bill had his mom talk to Don’s mom and say “Well they only ride in the dirt and if they fall it’s not so bad, there’s no cars around.” And so I had my mom talk to Bill’s mom and they kind of worked it out. So the three of us used to go riding. We’d go to Miramar, which used to be an open riding area off Miramar Road, between the 805 and the businesses to the east, there’s that open area — that all used to be legal. We’d go over there and then we’d also go to the desert, Ocatillo Wells.

The Off-Road Coalition has a lot to do with land use issues. Tell me how things have changed in San Diego since you got that first bike.

A lot of land has closed. A lot. God, I write articles for our newsletter and a couple of years ago, I listed all the places I used to ride that are closed … it just went on and on. Now, the closest legal place to go riding is 50 miles away in Corral Canyon and, yesterday it was closed because of fire hazard. So, it’s going to be closed until the next rain, really. There’s about 50-some miles of trail there.

The next place is McCain Valley, it’s about 65 miles. And that’s in the mountains just overlooking the desert, near [Interstate] 8. Then, otherwise, it’s the desert. And there’s still some fabulous stuff in the desert. A lot less than there use to be, but there’s still some big, good areas to ride in.

So it seems like you want to open up public areas for you guys to go ride your bikes, while environmentalists want to use it to protect some particular species.

We would love to open areas. It’s all we can do to maintain what we have. We do have one lawsuit trying to open a trail that was closed, which used to be open. That’s called Corral Canyon. It’s a rallying point and it’s just one road that goes from Borrego Springs up to Anza. But for the most part, we’re just trying to hang on to what we have.

It seems like it’s you against the environmentalists.

Oh yeah, yeah. If you look around in our society, there’s many people that are environmentally friendly, me included. Then within that, there’s environmentally active people, like political or club oriented people. And then, there’s a very small majority of those people who are what we refer to as “anti-access” environmentalists. They are a very small majority. There’s really only a couple dozen, maybe a couple hundred at the most. They’re the ones who actively work to keep everybody out of natural places. They don’t even want hikers there.

There’s a current closure proposal in the Cleveland National Forest where they want to close areas to protect some birds. And now, there’s a group of rock climbers that like to climb on these rock faces, where these alleged birds might like to nest. Now, I’m using these words “alleged” and “might,” because they don’t actually have proof that these birds have nests in these areas. It’s just that they are areas where they would like to have a nest.

I notice on your site that the majority of the people the Off-Road Coalition endorses for public office are Republicans. What does it to for you to make these endorsements and why Republicans?

By and large, all Republicans support our form of recreation. The Republican platform is very much that people have the freedom to do what they want, provided they don’t infringe on others’ rights. So, the Republican Party, it has many facets, but one of the facets is of this basic freedom. Like, the NRA people, they’re Republicans, because they want the freedom to shoot. The business people are Republicans because they allow them to run their businesses relatively freely. Whereas, the Democratic Party is more likely to want to impose regulations.

Ok, switching gears a little bit, could you tell me about the worst spill you’ve ever had on one of these bikes?

Oh, I’ve had a lot of different crashes.

Does one stick out in your mind?

Three or four.

Ok, lets hear a few of them.

I was racing at Carlsbad Raceway Motocross. We were racing the track backwards and I was coming out of the horseshoe. There was sort of a steep bank and I hit that a little bit off to the side — it looked like it was a more gentle slope — but what happened is my tire went into the mud and flipped me over. My hands came off the bars and my forearms caught the grips and I sort of slammed over the front. And I landed and was instantly paralyzed from the neck down. I watched my arm flop over and I was powerless to move. I was just laying there, people were flying by me. It was probably the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me. They came with the stretcher and carried me off. They didn’t drive away with the ambulance. They sat there for a while and pretty soon feeling came back and I went staggering back to my truck. I was OK but for a while there, I really thought it was going to be the end. I was perfectly paralyzed — couldn’t feel, couldn’t move.

Do things like that deter you at all from racing?

It’s funny. I’ve broken a lot of bones racing. I’ve broken my arms, my legs, my feet, all kinds of stuff. But, you know, after a while you get better and you get the itch again … Any old dirt biker will have his old war stories. I’ve certainly had a lot of get offs, but I’ve had a lot of fun. I just love it, what can you do?

— Interview by SAM HODGSON

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