By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
MONROE — If you’re out by the Washington State Reformatory this weekend, you’re likely to hear 4x4s rip-roaring through obstacle courses set up on farmland near the Skykomish River.
Promoters for months have been talking up an event they say will bring more than 300 off-roaders to compete in sand drag races, mud bogs and climbing challenges. They’ve dubbed it “Prison Break,” a reference to the state lockup next door.
Up to 5,000 spectators are expected to show for the motorized mud fest, where they can enjoy monster-truck displays, a beer garden and a kids play area. A slick website has been developed for the event, describing the location as an adventure park, and promising on-site camping, a food court and trophy girls.
The schedule begins Friday morning and runs through Sunday afternoon.
“It helps tourism, it helps the local economy,” said Dave Remlinger, a businessman who owns the land. “We’re hoping we can build on it. It seems like there is a big demand for four-wheel-drive events in this part of Snohomish County.”
Not everyone, however, has been so enthusiastic about the off-road extravaganza.
Snohomish County investigated a formal code complaint questioning whether such a large-scale competition should be allowed on land zoned for agriculture. Code officials decided the commercial event could take place if organizers stick to the conditions of a special event permit the county issued last week.
That would allow the upcoming competition, and possibly future ones, but would bar repetitive gatherings that could constitute a business. Activities covered by a special-event permit also must be subordinate to the property’s main use — in this case agriculture.
County planners did take issue with how dirt had been moved around on the land, and will require Remlinger to develop a farm plan explaining how he plans to manage resources on the property.
Remlinger said that’s fine with him. His idea is to build obstacle courses in areas less suited for agriculture.
“Basically, we’ll set up a course, smooth it back down and reseed the area every season,” he said. “We do grow some barley and corn, but the primary use is cattle.”
Remlinger, an entrepreneur who owns vast stretches of farmland between Snohomish and Monroe, has had ample opportunity over the years to familiarize himself with land-use rules. County officials have scrutinized activities on his properties including ballfields, rural wedding facilities and a massive dirt-fill project along U.S. 2. On occasion, he’s been found in violation of county land-use rules.
In 2004 and 2005, the county battled Remlinger and his business partner to shut down a motocross track that was operating without permits on land adjacent to where he plans to host this weekend’s 4×4 competition.
To this day, the local motocross community has yet to re-establish that track at other sites in the county, though a new motorcycle course has opened up at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe.* Off-road-vehicle enthusiasts are in a similar predicament, with few local outlets since the state shut down public trails at the Department of Natural Resources’ Reiter Foothills three years ago. This summer, the state opened a 1.4-mile loop at Reiter for motorcycle use, though most of the area between Index and Gold Bar remains closed to motorized recreation.
The scale of the off-road event planned on Remlinger’s land at first caught County Councilman Dave Somers by surprise. Somers’ district covers eastern Snohomish County and he typically has taken a leading role in environmental and land-use issues.
After studying Remlinger’s plan, Somers said property owners are entitled to flexibility on using their land if they follow the county’s land-use rules and keep special events limited.
“As long as the rules are being followed and we’re keeping an eye on it, it’s fine,” Somers said. “If this turns into a conversion of ag land into something else, they’re just going to have to go through the permitting process and to see whether it flies or not.”
Somers said the off-road event presents a different situation from the earlier motocross track.
The motorcycle facility, he said, “turned into a full-time commercial venture, so it was a little different in that respect.”
The weekend off-road competition is taking place just outside Monroe city limits and has no affiliation with the city. It is in line, though, with Monroe’s effort to market itself as a destination for outdoorsy, thrill-seeking tourists.
At the off-road course, Friday is planned as a prep day for Saturday’s main events.
For more information, go to www.monroe adventurepark.com.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Correction, August 9, 2012: This article originally included incomplete information about that status of motocross tracks in the area.