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Few places to ride in the Sunshine State, but there is at least one gem

Crooms OHV Area, FloridaYou may want to take your ATV with you on your next Disney vacation in Florida. About an hours drive west of Orlando lies the city of Brooksville, home of the Withlacoochee State Forest’s Croom OHV area, which is open to both motorcycles and ATVs. The World Wildlife Fund has endorsed the Withlacoochee State Forest as one of it’s “10 Coolest Places You’ve Never Been in North America” for its array of recreational activities. However, the Croom Off Highway Vehicle Area is by far what has made it so popular nationally. Visitors not only come from all over Florida, but from states all over the country. The riding area consists of 2,600 acres of fenced land to insure riders stay within the OHV allocated portion of the forest. The riding area consists of old phosphate-mining land, which makes for excellent terrain variations. Permits are required for each bike entering the park and can be purchased at the entrance to the riding area. The fee is $50 per year, and Rangers occasionally ride through the park and check permits. The Florida Division of Forestry manages the park with all fees deposited to a general fund benefiting all other parks in the state.

It is said that nearly 47,000 off road vehicles came into the riding area in 2005, which generated over $580,000. This is more than all other state forests in Florida combined. There are 50 campsites located within the Croom riding area, and as expected, they usually fill up by Friday afternoons and remain full through the weekends. Therefore, all other riders must find accommodations elsewhere and trailer their bikes in and out of the riding area.

Why the intense popularity and success of the Croom riding area? This story begins in the late 1960’s, when off road motorcyclists began using the Croom and Citrus Tracts of the Withlacoochee State Forest. The popularity of this activity dramatically increased in a short period of time. As a result, there was both environmental damage and confrontations between motorcyclists and other forest users, especially hunters. At first, the Division of Forestry attempted to ban the use of Off Highway Vehicles in the forest. However, this was unsuccessful and in 1972, the Croom Motorcycle Area was established.

In 2002, the Florida Legislature passed the Mark Schmidt Off-highway Vehicle Safety and Recreation Act, designed to raise money to produce more sites like Croom. Thus far, only one other riding location has been developed with the funds raised. In 2005, the Tate’s Hell OHV System was developed which consists of 150 miles of trails and is located in the panhandle of the state. Combine only two state funded riding areas with the exponential growth of ATV riding in the past few years, and the popularity of these riding areas becomes apparent.

ATV Source caught up with Keith Finnerty, President of the Central Florida Trail Riders Association for an expert opinion on the state of riding in central Florida. He describes the situation as “Alarming!! Croom is one of only two state owned riding areas and is the most popular park in Florida, as the Tate’s Hell riding area just opened. Everyone who wants to ride while visiting the state is directed here.” He further describes the Croom riding area as “Prime Florida riding, some solid forest with hard pack terrain of mostly sandy trails of deep Florida Sugar Sand. Most people from outside the state find this challenging, but once the skills are learned, it’s lots of fun. There are a lot of whoops, a big open pit up front, and some hills back at the previous mine site.”

Although places to ride in Florida are few and far between, the Croom riding area is a fun and quality place to ride. As a result, it’s also a very popular place to ride. So, make some new friends and check it out the next time you are traveling through central Florida.

For more information on the Croom OHV area, check out their site at: www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt/guide/regions/westcentral/trails/with_croom_motor.htm

For more information on trail riding in Florida, check out: www.floridatrailriders.org.


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