FOUNTAIN VALLEY — Remote-control model airplane enthusiasts don't want to be left up in the air over county plans to develop the hobby area of Mile Square Regional Park, so they are banding together to find a solution.
In the coming months, the county's Harbor, Beaches and Parks office plans to solicit private development proposals for the triangular-shaped 137 acres used by the hobbyists, which will eventually force them to find another place to tinker with their scale-model airplanes and cars.
The county-owned park is the county's only public meeting place for builders of hand-crafted, remote-controlled aircraft. Other hobbyists use the area for their radio-controlled cars and all-terrain vehicles. Rockets are no longer allowed at the park.
In efforts to unite hobbyists who use the park and discuss the county's future plans, a meeting will be held tonight at 7 at MacArthur Fundamental Intermediate School, 600 W. Alton Ave., Santa Ana.
"We're enlisting the help of modelers in the area to join our organization and work with us," said Bruce L. Moore, president of the Orange County Assn. of Model Clubs, which is sponsoring the meeting. The association has members from seven clubs in the county, with a total estimated membership of 600, Moore said.
Mile Square is the only public park in the county that has an area set aside for remote-controlled model airplane and car hobbyists, Moore said.
Moore, who is also president of the Flying Falcons of Saddleback Valley, a model airplane club, said his group has developed a private flying field in Trabuco Canyon for its members. He estimated that there are as many as 18,000 remote-control modelers of all ages in Orange County.
"We're trying to acquire numerous flying sites throughout the county so the sport can be enhanced," he said.
"If you take away Mile Square Park, you certainly wouldn't have room for everybody," since the Trabuco Canyon airfield couldn't accommodate all the hobbyists, he said.
Robert G. Fisher, director of Harbors, Beaches and Parks, said Monday that the county is pursuing development of a revenue-generating source for the triangular piece of land in the center of the park.
"We've had our eye on the center triangle for many years," Fisher said.
The 137 acres, which was once used by the Marine Corps as an airstrip for helicopters, has been used for years by hobbyists. The county took over the parcel in 1991 in a land swap with the federal government. The county wanted to keep the Marine Corps from building housing there, Fisher said. In exchange, the county bought 41 acres in Tustin from the Irvine Co. for $33 million and gave it to the Marine Corps for housing.
"We obviously have a very heavy investment in the land, and we don't believe it justifies leaving it just the way it is," Fisher said.
Fisher said the county has not identified a particular development plan for the park. Two golf courses and city-operated recreation facilities are located within the 633-acre park.
Fisher said the county is looking for "creative ideas--ideas that don't impact the surrounding neighborhood negatively. But we would like it to be revenue-producing, some sort of commercial recreation."
A portion of the 137 acres is expected to be put to traditional park uses, such as baseball facilities, Fisher said. He added that closing the area to hobbyists is at least a year away.
David S. Greenfield, 74, of Dana Point, who has had a love affair with model airplanes since he was a teen-ager, said he is not pleased about the imminent closing of the hobby area.
"People come from all over to fly here," Greenfield said. "It's a crying shame. . . . Now they're trying to take this away from us."
Greenfield, navigator of a B-17 bomber in World War II who has been flying model planes at Mile Square Park since the late 1940s, long before it became a public park, said his hobby has helped him medically and physically. Greenfield, who was shot down over Austria and became a prisoner of war, spends hours building his aircraft, he said.
"It's made my life happy," he said. "It's made my life fulfilled."
Larry Judson, president of the 120-member Orange Coast Radio Control Club, has been flying model planes at the park for more than 20 years.
"It's terrible that they want to turn it into a moneymaking thing. We need a place where the modelers can come," he said.
"It would be catastrophic for me to have them close the park down," said Judson, who lives in Fountain Valley. "I think it's unconscionable. Granted, the county needs money, but this is ridiculous."
Moore said that while some hobbyists are angry they may be losing Mile Square Park, he hopes they will join together to work with the county to find a new site.
"Fifty percent of the people who participate at Mile Square have accepted that they cannot fight the county," he said. "The other 50% are hanging on to a glimmer (of hope) that the site won't close. But it's our feeling that working with the parks and county officials, we're going to get a lot more that way than trying to fight them."
Fisher said the county plans on helping the hobbyists find a new site.
"We've invited them to tell us what they would need and want in a substitute location so we could use our resources to find a place," he said. "We would like to help them relocate. After all, we are in the recreation business. We care what they are doing."
Development could force out model planes.