So you want to start your own off-road park? Great! We need more of 'em. The more the merrier, as they say. To help you accomplish your dream, we contacted a number of off-road park owners and asked them to give us a basic overview of what's required to start a park from land acquisition to day-to-day management.
Owning an off-road park is gravy. You simply acquire a chunk of land, charge an arm and a leg to get in, and let the users go hog wild and make the trails. While they're 'wheeling, you oversee the expansion of your private runway so you can buy a bigger jet ...
Um, right. Now, we know you don't believe a word of that. The stark reality is that developing and managing an off-road park is a gargantuan task that will swallow money, test your patience, and consume your time. Sorry to be so blunt, but you need to know that right up front.
Interestingly, even with the sacrifices required, every park owner we spoke with seemed genuinely happy with their ventures, and all were enthusiastic. If you're thinking of starting an off-road park, here are a few things you should know.
The number one recommendation that park owners offer is to ensure that you have a clear business plan in place before you even attempt to start a park. This is good advice considering that ORV parks are indeed a business and can fail just as quickly as any other business.
Controlling costs and creating a steady revenue stream are paramount to success. The vast majority of privately owned parks are open on weekends only. This means that you, as the owner, probably won't be generating a full-time income from the park, yet the property may require your every spare moment when you're not at your real job. Park owners tell us that spooling up a park most often takes years and not weeks or months. Heck, the state or local red tape can take years to cut. This means that being "in the red" financially is standard operating procedure for the first few years. Many park owners also told us that they ended up injecting much larger amounts of cash into their park than they originally projected.
Some park owners told us that, due to sheer numbers, the vast majority of their income is generated by ATVs and not four-wheel-drive rigs. Thus, your business plan should address whether or not you can afford to allow or not allow ATVs to ride on your property. Allowing ATVs may be out of your control, however, because there have been many instances where neighbors object to the noise associated with ATVs.
This brings us to another point: public relations. If you're not a "people person," you'll be in a pickle because owning an off-road park requires a significant amount of public relations savvy. The reality is that local governments and neighbors react favorably if the park is a professional organization that has the local community in mind. Sometimes, though, even professionalism and a good plan won't help. More than one park has been forcibly closed after politics reared its ugly head, even after the proper permits were issued. Public relations with paying customers is also important. Be prepared for the fact that eventually you'll make someone mad and they'll talk smack about you and your park on some Internet message board. This is where having a "thick skin" comes in handy.
A good business plan will dictate that the closer your park is to a population center, the better chance you'll have at drawing 'wheelers and generating revenue. Some potential park owners go so far as to hire a consulting service to analyze potential draw. The trick is to purchase land that is close to a town, but not too close to densely populated suburbia inhabited with people who may get annoyed when the park gets spooled up (neighbors can either be your biggest foe or your greatest ally). It's wise to stay away from state or national parks where politics is always in play. Also remember that if the land you're considering is surrounded by open land where 'wheelers can ride for free, they may not pay to ride on your land.
Two prime (but certainly not the only) examples of ORV parks in a good location are the Badlands in Attica, Indiana, and Superlift Off Road Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Lodging, food, fuel, and parts are close, but the parks are removed from town. If your land is close to town, consider creating a buffer zone around the park to insulate it from the city. If your park is far removed from a town, consider offering amenities such as camping with showers and restrooms to facilitate visitors.