The more land the better, though we've seen some amazing things done with a minimal amount of real estate. You'll need to plan to set aside a large chunk of land for check-in, parking, and restrooms, not to mention the almost-mandatory campground. Some of the people we spoke with said that if you want to own a park, the fastest way is to buy an existing park as a turnkey investment. This allows you to step right in and go to work. If you want to start from scratch, the most popular method is to purchase land. Of course, this means that you will either need cash, excellent credit, or a group of investors. If land is $3,000 per acre and you want to buy 1,000 acres, simple math shows you'll need to generate $3,000,000. Add to that the cost of improvements, permits, property taxes, and so on. Another method is to lease the land, but this is often tricky because even seemingly iron-clad leases can be circumvented and leave you hosed (the closing of Paragon Adventure Park in Pennsylvania shows what can go wrong with a lease). However, with that said, today many parks exist using leased land, and everyone is happy and the parks are very successful.
Finally, there are various government land grants or money grants available, but these vary wildly from state to state, so you would need to check with your local government to see what's available in your area. When it comes to actually choosing the land, abandoned stone quarries seem like the most natural land to use for a park, and they do work, but these often sheer-walled properties may require a significant amount of expense to render them safe and usable for four-wheel-drives. Park owners tell us that they look for land that contains a variety of types of terrain. Rocky soil works well because it isn't as susceptible to rutting after precipitation. Also consider that runoff and things of that nature are monitored by local government and the EPA, and they won't hesitate to enforce existing laws.
Ultimately, you want to create a park that people will want to come to again and again. Tom Wombles, who with his wife Debbie, owns Hannibal Rocks in Hannibal, Missouri, said it best when he noted that each ORV park has its own personality.
Park owners tell us that insurance is their biggest expense and there are only a couple of companies willing to underwrite ORV parks. If you can qualify for insurance, we're told that annual premiums for a full-time park range from $20,000 to more than $50,000. Figuring a $20,000 annual premium and a $15 per-vehicle day rate, this means that it'll take well over 1,300 paying customers to meet your premium. Speaking of the premium, it's all due at one time. There are finance companies that you can utilize to spread out the payment, but then you're incurring interest charges. If your park is only open on select weekends, your insurance premiums will be lower, but so will your income. We're told that some states have laws that shield operators of off-road motorsports venues from most litigation; however these do not always shield operators from true negligence. Another thing: One successful, experienced park owner told us that it's a good idea to see if liability waivers have withstood the test of time in the state you are looking to operate in.
Set 'em and enforce 'em. A few park owners told us that they were too lenient with rules at first and it came back to bite 'em. If rules say that alcohol is prohibited, vehicles must stay on trails, and everyone must wear seatbelts, then it must be enforced. Rules require constant enforcement, so this means that the owner of the park has to be the mobile enforcer or one has to be hired. And remember, park owners and friends fall under the same rules as paying customers.
You're a 'wheeler, so you know what 'wheelers want. A successful park has a variety of 'wheeling options that integrate all 'wheeling disciplines. Something to remember is that guests won't be familiar with your land, so make sure all of the trails are clearly marked and rated. Detailed maps will also ensure that customers have a good time. If possible, create an infrastructure of easy roads that allow access to the entire property. Challenging trails can simply branch off of the main roads and the wider roads will facilitate recoveries. When it comes to building trails, many park owners have partnered with family-oriented off-road clubs as a source of volunteer labor. These clubs often donate their time for trail building, and in return for their labor, the park owners often trade out trail time to the club. If you don't want to go that route, you can build the trails yourself; though creating trails often requires the use of heavy equipment which must be rented. If you don't have experience in operating heavy equipment, you'll need to rent an operator too. Remember: Fresh new trails keep people coming back.
As more and more public land is closed, ORV parks fill the gap and give people what they want. Naturally this is a good thing. Now that you have a basic idea of the commitment a park requires, you can decide whether or not to take it to the next level.