By Chris Lane
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When contacted, owner Peckinpaugh seemed disinclined to let loose of his property, or to remove the ATVs. "Not at the present time I might consider it, but that's a real pretty piece of property. I'm real attached to it I don't see myself selling it anytime soon."
As for the destructive capabilities of an ATV, Peckinpaugh says: "I've lost a lot of bank out there from Mother Nature, not from anyone riding ATVs."
He also pooh-poohs the scenic picture of canoeists drifting down Spring Creek. "Most of the time, the creek's too low. You end up dragging the canoes and kayaks." This viewpoint was shared by Nathan Schuh, an employee of nearby Paddle Sports, who says most of the time negotiating Spring Creek involves more walking and carrying than riding and that they tend to use the San Jacinto River more.
The sand is too heavy for mountain bikers, Peckinpaugh says. So that pretty much leaves people who are already there, the folks riding ATVs, he says. In fact, he was thinking about approaching Eversole to point out that the taxpayers out there using ATVs far outnumber canoeists and kayakers, and that the park would be more suitable for his hobby-business "any day of the week."
He thinks people are opposed to ATVs because of younger riders with their really fast sport bikes, loudly zipping through a subdivision at 2 a.m. People his age, he says, drive the older, quieter models that don't bother anybody.
He denies accounts that he has offered to pay the tickets of any of his customers using ATVs. "You hear a lot of stuff on that chat line." (See "Can You Keep a Secret?") "We tell people to stay on our property. If they're off it, then shame on them."
Peckinpaugh, whose grandfather bought 1,200 acres back in the 1920s, says he doesn't know that Spring Creek has ever been navigable. "Maybe back in the times of the Indians."
(Ironically, Peckinpaugh's aunt is Patty Hubbard, who sold a huge amount of nearby land to Jimmy Pappas of Midway Development in 2000. Ironic because Hubbard is working with Legacy to get land by Riley Fuzzell Road in Montgomery County set aside as a conservation easement to be called Peckinpaugh Preserve. Her son, Ford Hubbard, owns property adjacent to his cousin, Tom. Also ironic because Tom Peckinpaugh is embroiled in a lawsuit with Midway that accuses him of violating the deed restrictions, saying that his customers also ride on Midway land.)
Besides the sheer fun of ATVing, there are other benefits to consider, Riley says. "There's a lot of old people, a lot of handicapped people that aren't allowed to get down on these beaches unless they were on a motorized ATV. Therefore you'd be discriminating against these people."
Although there have been some complaints that ATVers get in the way of canoeists and kayakers, according to Riley there's been nothing but happy coexistence.
"There never has been a problem. Anyone who's out there are good country people. Whether they're in a kayak or walking or standing on the banks fishing or on an ATV," Riley proclaims.
As for damage to the creek, well, you might as well ban about everything while you're on the subject, Riley says.
"You can hurt that sand just by walking out there. We refer to it as a big Etch A Sketch. Every time it rains two inches anywhere from here to Tomball that creek rises eight to ten feet and falls within a couple of days, and it's like taking an Etch A Sketch everything is erased and changed."
Foot traffic, deer and hogs all routinely tear into the sand, Riley says. "The pigs go down there and dig holes on the beaches that are so big you couldn't ride an ATV through them. That's why I say it's totally unfair to point a finger at an ATV."
Adamant about the destructive properties of ATVs, Jennifer Lorenz says she is fine about horseback rides along Spring Creek -- the other major point of contention as plans are being formulated for the future green space.
"Horses don't do a ton of damage; they don't do near the damage these ATVs do," says Lorenz, adding that she is not a big rider. "There are probably a few sensitive areas these horses shouldn't be in, but in my opinion that's a very low ecological disturbance.
"I've been on some [horses] down there. It's a wonderful way to view that area. Unless there's just thousands of horses, which there's not, I can't see the major damage," Lorenz says.
Mark Dial and his wife, Darolyn Butler Dial, operate Cypresswood Stables for trail and endurance rides in the area. Part of their route is along Spring Creek; they also use nearby Cypress Creek.
Dial says Commissioner Eversole, himself a rider, started out fully supportive of retaining horse trails along the creek. But now some staff members, primarily Eversole chief of staff Joanye Younts, have convinced him otherwise, pushing him into a cautious public posture, Dial and others say.
Dial says Younts told him flat out that horses would not be allowed. Younts denies this, saying, as Eversole contends, that their presence is up for consideration. Eversole goes a bit further, saying they will probably be there. Dial and his wife don't want to make the situation worse, don't want to get crosswise with the commissioner's office, but they are clearly flummoxed by the latest turn of events, especially since Eversole and his wife have ridden at Cypresswood Stables and the commissioner has had political parties there.