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Environmental Groups Fight Expansion Of East Bay Dirt-Bike Park

ALAMEDA COUNTY (CBS SF) -- A heated fight in Alameda County is pitting dirt-bike enthusiasts against wildlife advocates as county officials sue to put the brakes on a major expansion to an off-road park.

The showdown over the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area east of Livermore has been brewing for more than a decade.

The state recently approved a plan to triple the size of the recreation area.

Critics worry it could destroy the habitat for rare wildlife.

Carnegie is one of the very few places in the bay area where people can ride dirt bikes, ATVs and other off-road vehicles. The county is opposed to the state-approved expansion.

Dirt bike riders say the thrill and challenge of riding the steep hillsides at Carnegie are unforgettable.

"Usually to get to a piece of land like this, you have to go up to Mendicino or on the other side of the Tahoe National Forest," said dirt-bike rider Jason Grotte.

Last month, the state voted to expand Carnegie from about 1,500 acres to 4,600 acres. They are essentially turning the park next to Carnegie -- Tesla Park -- into an off-road recreational park.

"That's wrong. We can't let that happen," said Celeste Garamendi of the environmental group Friends of Tesla Park.

Garamendi says just one look at the trails and damage done to Carnegie should be proof enough that such a vehicular recreational park would be an environmental disaster that can be seen even with Google Earth.

"It scars the land no matter how much they try to manage it or restore it," said Garamendi. "It's a destructive activity.  And Tesla is just too important."

The nearby mining town of Tesla is long gone, but environmentalists say Tesla Park is home to rare species and sacred Native American sites.

" We're the small guy. We're fighting the big state park system," said Nancy Rodrigue, another member of Friends of Tesla Park.

But dirt bike riders like Grotte say the Carnegie expansion is a win-win situation. They would only be allowed to ride on established trails at Tesla Park.

"Riders for the most part respect that, said Grotte. "If they have a place to ride, they will ride on those, instead of going out and finding an illegal trail and maybe do more damage to a habitat."

Alameda County, Friends of Tesla Park, and other environmental groups filed four lawsuits against the state to stop the expansion and preserve Tesla Park.

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