FOUNTAIN VALLEY — Ryan Grosch gripped the wire fence and craned his neck as he watched some of the best Top Gun hobbyists in the state operate their radio-controlled model airplanes at Mile Square Regional Park on Sunday.
Ryan, 7, of Mission Viejo, smiled at his father, Greg Grosch, for taking him to see dozens of expensive, handcrafted, miniature aircraft at the fifth annual radio-controlled model airplane air show. About 1,200 people attended the event.
But the show may be the last of its kind if plans proceed for a golf course, a garden and conference center in what is now the hobbyists' area.
"We have been in disagreement with the [Orange County] Board of Supervisors since 1992 and this could be our final air show," said Robert Richards, 65, of Fountain Valley, who is helping mount a campaign to keep the hobby area open.
If the supervisors close the area, it would force thousands of local hobbyists to travel to a public airstrip in the Sepulveda Basin in Los Angeles County, more than 60 miles away, to fly their planes.
There are private air strips for model airplanes, but hobbyists argue that many are too far and too expensive.
The park is the county's only public place to fly model airplanes. Other hobbyists use the area for their radio-controlled cars.
In a letter Richards sent to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), he argued that when the federal government turned the last parcel of land over to the county, the land was restricted for public recreational use.
"And, the government had an added proviso," Richards argued, "that no more than 30% of the total Mile Square Park area be developed for commercial purposes such as golf courses, or any pay-for-use activities."
The park has an 18-hole golf course and driving range. Kicking out those who now enjoy the hobby area for another golf course will allow the county to earn revenue but at a higher cost to the public, argued Richards.
"We will sue and take the county to court if we have to," Richards said.
Copies of the letter were posted at Sunday's model air show to help make the public aware of what's at stake, Richards said.
Some who attended the event were from out of town and didn't know about the controversy.
"This was a really neat event, that's why we came out here to see it," said Terri Baker, 32, of Perris, who was accompanied by Michael Partin, an airplane mechanic and model airplane aficionado.
Raymond L. Smith, 66, a retired aerospace employee, said he has flown his model airplanes all over the United States but frequently makes the long drive from his home in Paso Robles to fly his airplanes at Mile Square Park.
"This strip is a utopia," Smith said. "It's one of the best in the country. Look at this thing, it's big, it's isolated and it's beautiful to fly here."
The park site was owned by the U.S. government as a training facility from the 1940s to the 1970s when the county acquired most of the land. In 1992, the county traded land near Irvine to the federal government for the remaining 137 acres in the middle of Mile Square Park.
The land swap enabled the military to build housing near its two bases in Tustin and at El Toro.
Prior to 1992, the property had been leased to the county by the federal government on a year-to-year basis and used for flying model airplanes, marathons, fireworks, ballooning and other activities.