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Washougal gears up for motocross

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WASHOUGAL – Controversy has hovered over the Washougal Motocross Park like a big cloud of dust this year.

Noise complaints. Safety issues. Hot topics that have played out large as of late in the local community.

But Brian Barnes, spokesman for the park, has just the answer for the recent controversy: some serious racing.

“That’s all it takes,” Barnes said. “We put on a great, safe show here. Families come out from all over, and they love what they see. We’ve been here a long time, and we’re not going anywhere.”

Barnes definitely has supporters. Lots of them. A walk around the campgrounds on Wednesday afternoon at WMP found the area already packed with dirt bikes, trailers, motor homes, tents and extended families. Kids on bicycles raced up and down the same dirt hills Toyota AMA Motocross stars like James M. Stewart and Ryan Villopoto will jump and push their bikes hard on come Sunday afternoon.

Families rolled around in golf carts, catching up with old friends, making new ones, and scoping out the view. It was a sight that made Barnes proud.

“This is what we work for,” Barnes said. “Every year, people come from all over the country and gather together to watch some of the best racing around. Everyone looks forward to it. And we’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to make this a big, nice community.”

Barnes is in charge of a small community himself. Broc, his 17-year-old son, will compete in a 125 intermediate race and before-the-hill race on Friday, running a total of four events on his brand new Suzuki RMZ 250. Barnes’ 18-year-old daughter, Brianna, will help out with ticket sales and general organization. According to both, late July at WMP is a time of the year they anticipate greatly.

“The phone starts ringing off the hook at our house around May,” Brianna said. “That’s when all start to get excited.”

But for all the excitement and promise the 27th Washougal MX National holds, Brian Barnes acknowledged he’s fully aware the racing will also reflect the drama that has recently surrounded WMP.

Thus, Barnes said he and his co-workers have gone to great lengths to make this the safest year ever at the park.

Extra security has been employed, while a racing hill some considered dangerous has been removed from the course.

“We’ve done everything possible to meet every demand,” Barnes said. “We have doctors ready. Helicopters ready. We’ve even improved transportation and the general facilities. We looked at every issue and did all we could to make things as safe as possible for riders and fans.”

The efforts drew rave reviews from AMA Toyota Motocross spokesman Tony Gardea.

“This is going to be a great year for us in Washougal,” Gardea said. “A lot of the big riders who’ve been there before are really looking forward to it. It’s a wonderful venue and definitely a favorite on the tour.”

As for safety?

“We don’t have any concerns about safety at all. None whatsoever,” Gardea said.

Gardea’s words were backed up by Don and Aren Hodgson.

The Hodgsons, who hail from Placerville, Calif,, spent Wednesday afternoon strolling through WMP with their two young children in tow. Don is the main reason for their trip to Washougal – he’ll race today and Friday in the amateur 450 series. But the Hodgson’s also said they just can’t get enough of the view.

“There really isn’t a place that compares to this,” Aren said. “You have all the big trees. And the grass is green. Everywhere else we go, the grass is brown and dead. It’s a great place to come race. It’s almost like a vacation.”

The scenery isn’t the only selling point at WMP. For local businesses, there’s the issue of money. Big money. Charrol Fuller, co-owner of the Washougal River Mercantile, estimated her store will take in $50,000 over the next four days, thanks to the large influx of customers the Washougal MX Nationals brings with it.

Moreover, Fuller said the money her store makes this week will go a long way towards offsetting slow sales during the winter months.

“It’s a huge event for us,” Fuller said. “Every year, it’s the biggest thing to happen to us. Nothing compares to it. Because of the racing, we’ll probably make more in one week than we’ll make all next month.”

By BY BRIAN T. SMITH, Columbian staff writer

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