Battlefield neighbor raises off-road ruckus

Virginia is not for dirt bikers, according to one man whose plan to put off-road bike tracks next to Manassas National Battlefield Park has neighbors fuming and county officials on guard.

Centreville resident Sam Unuscavage bought about 25 acres along U.S. 29 to have a place to ride his all-terrain vehicles. He says the land will be farmed and only used for ATV riding by his friends, but fliers and an Internet site advertising his tracks suggest grander plans.

Leaflets distributed at motorcycle shops announce the October opening of three off-road bike tracks for members of the Redline MX and ATV Club, which Unuscavage started about five years ago. He said he did not distribute the fliers and doesn’t know who did.

Unuscavage’s land is also advertised on an Internet site,, which lists “bathrooms, parking and watering” as track amenities.

The publicity raised the suspicions of Prince William officials. The site is zoned for agriculture and does not allow commercial or private recreational uses without special permission from the county.

“Obviously, it causes us great concern as to whether he intends to use this just for himself or market it on a grander scale,” said Curt Spear, assistant county attorney. “We have evidence that he’s gone out and essentially marketed it as a commercial enterprise.”

Unuscavage, 30, said the extent of his plans has been blown out of proportion and insists he will not be running a business.

He said he will farm the land and there will be no organized bike racing — just him and his friends having fun.

“I don’t want to run a business. All I want to do is be responsible and use my land the way I want to,” he said.

But dirt bike riding, permissible or not, is not an appropriate use of rural land next to a Civil War battleground, according to some area residents and battlefield preservationists, who fought off a Disney theme park and a mall pushed by developer Til Hazel in the 1990s.

“I don’t consider him a major threat to the battlefield, but certainly it’s an unwarranted source of unwanted noise right on the edge of the battlefield,” said Harvey Simon, vice president of the Friends of the Manassas National Battlefield Park. The group is dedicated to preserving the integrity and historical value of the battlefield.

People come to the park to visualize and honor the events of 140 years ago, and the noise from the tracks would be a major distraction, preservationists said.

“The noise pollution infringes on the rights of all Americans who visit the battlefield and it infringes on his neighbors and their property rights,” said Betty Rankin, head of the Save the Battlefield Coalition and an area resident.

But Unuscavage is quick to point out that his land is not part of the park and shouldn’t be treated as an extension of it. He also said noise created by his ATV riding wouldn’t be any worse than noise from the numerous dump trucks and tractor-trailers that come down U.S. 29 every day.

Unuscavage said he has talked to neighbors about his plans and only one expressed concern.

He feels off-road riding has a bad reputation, and that’s responsible for the county’s concern and his opponents’ disapproval.

Unuscavage said his club promotes family values and rider safety and his land will provide a safe, controlled environment for off-road riders, especially children, who might otherwise be trespassing or ride in dangerous areas.

There are no off-road parks in the county, and only two in the state, said Mark Spence, owner of the Motorcycle Factory Inc. in Woodbridge and a member of Family Off Road Riders of Prince William County.

Spence said there are 5,000 off-road bike and ATV users in the county, and very few places to enjoy the sport. He said if Unuscavage’s tracks open, they will be instantly popular.

The possibility that riders would come en masse to the site is what bothers some neighbors, who said they recognize that property owners have the right to ride privately on their land.

“It’s just a travesty. This is no ‘me and my buddies riding’ operation — he’s gone to a big expense,” said Mary Ann Ghadban, who lives next door to Unuscavage’s property.

Spear said Public Works inspectors would monitor the situation at the site.

Staff writer Kate Bissell can be reached at (703) 878-8068.

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