Florida Tracks & Trails in Punta Gorda, Florida




Head Of Public Safety Discusses Logistics, Camping Evolution & Sense Of Community At Outdoor Park In Punta Gorda, Florida

Head Of Safety Eddie Lopez Stands Over The Pro Track At Florida Tracks & Trails. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

Running an outdoor park, keeping it safe and maintaining the status quo is always a challenge. For Eddie Lopez, Head Of Public Safety & Security at Florida Track & Trails Park outside Punta Gorda, Florida, there are always challenges but also enormous advantage with the beauty of the wildlife, the camaraderie of the people that visit and the sheer enthusiasm and excitement of some the riders that barrel through the courses. Lopez sat down with The Buzz in viewing distance of the Florida Track & Trails Pro Track to discuss psychology, logistics, crowd supervision and having fun.

The Buzz: Florida Tracks & Trails is for all sorts of people. You see young and old people running these tracks in everything from motorbikes to ATVs.

Eddie Lopez: Yes, definitely. We have a few that come out here in their elder years but we also have kids, sometimes seven-year-olds that get on the pro track and ride. So it's not just for kids…it's not just for adults…it's for everybody. We have women that go out there. We have a 55-year-old woman that rides the pro track. She's been out there, I know for sure, 10 times. And she comes out on her own.

The Buzz: With this position, you have to oversee the park…you have to look at safety, but you have to look at enjoyment because this is a park meant for fun. Can you talk about the different logistics you have to look at in order to oversee its operation?

EL: I started out in security. I've been doing that a long time so I've always learned that the best way to handle something is bodies…bodies in places of incidents. Starting off on a pro track, I had whatever I had. [You would see an] incident in this spot…or an incident in that spot. And then I learn that Lorne (one of Eddie’s guys) is the guy for the tracks, but I'm the guy who says, "Well, we need another guy here," and then figure out a better way to handle it. Each track is different. Each track has their  own experience [level]. We don't have on the amateurs running over to the pro just because the pro track's open. On certain tracks, you have to learn a whole different attitude. Even with the beginner and the peewee...The peewee is soft and the parents complain, but if the peewee track was hard and they fell over, they would go, "Oh, the track's too hard." So you get it double-sided. [Ultimately] you have to learn how to play the game. [For example] we water the track when we think it's too soft, and then when it's too hard, we tiller it. You have to think of the way the riders think [as well as] the safest way for our insurance and the safest way for me. Because everything, the way I look at it, it's based on me and how I feel comfortable with it.

The Buzz: We’ll talk about the campground component in a minute. But first…are you surprised how much you've learned about how these courses are designed at this point? What is the most interesting thing from your perspective? Then I'll ask a question about the actual riders.

EL: It’s funny, because with my background… first it was [security] in bars most of my life, and then I went into concerts and then I went into this other mud park. I got away from it, learned from this one, that from this one and then coming back to this type [at Florida Tracks & Trails]. You would be amazed at the kids who get on the pro track and watch the height that they get. Now, we're talking kids that can barely hold up these bikes. Their parents have to hold them [in place] on their back…they're going “Whoop!” and then go! Then they're riding this thing and it's amazing. You watch them at the finish line and they're getting big jumps, because they see it. They see it on videos. They see it on YouTube. They see it on everything, all these guys hitting big jumps and they want to be that star. It's amazing.

A Rider Jumps At The Pro Track At Florida Tracks & Trails in Punta Gorda, Florida. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: What has surprised you about some of the riders? Can you talk about what's impressed you the most seeing that king of athleticism? 

EL: In the semi-pro we have this one kid. They were out there riding one day…it was on a slower day. We got him over there on the pro track and he's doing triple step up. The triple step up is really high. And this kid was hitting from bottom to the top of the step up… it's actually designed for you to hit all three places. Now, this is a 15 year old kid who is going 15 feet in the air above me, standing on top of the jump.  I'm just going, "What?" I’m looking at this guy going, "Oh my god. This is amazing." And then he can do the same thing coming back across. We're talking 10 or 15 yards that can dunk across.

The Buzz: Now, before we get to the camping, can you talk about wildlife out here. We were talking a little bit about the hogs and everything. But then we have this gator right here hanging in the water near us minding its own business. And that's great, because of the fact that you can sit here and enjoy the wildlife like that. It’s awesome. Can you sort of talk about that? But also the safety, of course.

EL: The wildlife here to us is important all the way around. We don't want to take anything out from where we're at. The alligators here, of course, are in one pond, but not the other. We look at night -- me personally -- we cover the pond 15, 20 times and make sure that we have no alligators in the swimming lake. And then in the other lake where the other alligators are, they're all  checked on, not messed with but checked on a lot.

The Buzz: But there are other animals too in this vast area and it's just sort of awesome for that enjoyment aspect.

EL: I showed you back in the paintball area where there's hog roots. During the daytime when there’s people there, they all seem to wander out. But they wander back when they all disappear at night. You get that with the raccoons. You get that with the possums. We even had a bear sighting towards the front. They are here. They're all around but we're aware of them.--

The Buzz: That’s part of the beauty of this place.

EL: Absolutely the beauty of it. We even see eagles out here. I mean everything. All kinds of Florida animals are in this area.

The Buzz:  Could you talk about how the camping and the RVing aspect because the park is thinking about expansion in that realm.

EL: When we first came up with camping here, it was designed with a whole different attitude up front. When we learned what wasn't working, we decided to change. What we found – [including] me and myself being that I'm here the whole weekend – is about different types of campers. You have the Spanish groups who like to go and get their own little corner, and they cook late. The Spanish people, when they come to this park, actually don't start cooking until 7:30, 8 o'clock at night. But then you have your country boys who like to be in their own little world also. But they’re before dark and they like to have their feet up around the fire. With us, we learned to put them all in pods in their own little spots but at the same time so that they still interact with the tiki, the bonfire, and everything else we have going on. As we move them around, we still have spots where they can go still be away from other people and camp and be together either with a group and all different kinds of groups. We have twelve different types of music  playing at night…and  it's a cool feeling because nobody gets mad about the music. Everybody knows though that at a certain time, it's time to lay down. And everybody drops their music and has a whole different kind of attitude, which is good.

A Family Gets Ready For A Day Of Riding At Florida Tracks & Trails in Punta Gorda, Florida. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: So everybody has a good time. But do you have to police it in certain aspects or have an idea of a curfew.

EL: No. We don't have an actual time or curfew. What it is is a feeling that I have. When I feel that this person's gone to sleep, or if these people have gone to sleep, and then I'll come around and say, "Listen, we got people in tents that are going down early." And I'll ask them just if we could bring it down to a certain level…if I feel it's bothering their neighbor or whatever. We in an open generator area, so again, if it's not like music, I'll play it by ear. I'll say, "Listen. If you have a generator, can you go in this area?"

The Buzz: So you let people use generators at night?

EL: Absolutely.

The Buzz: That’s awesome. Next question. When do people start riding the tracks most days?

EL: The front pro shop opens at 7am. So at 7, they're allowed to start the bikes, tune them and whatever. We usually try to keep them off of anything before that. They don't get on the tracks or trails until 8.

The Buzz: So as far as the evolution of the camping component, what are the next steps?

EL: Right now there are a couple 30s and a couple 50 amp breakers. It is a first come, first serve type basis. Coming up in the future, we will have 498 campsites -- full campsites with full hookups that we put in. They're also looking to put in tent sites that will be in one area plus a general store and definitely a bathhouse. 

The Buzz: Can you talk about the balance of your position and enjoying what you are doing interacting with people on this level as I saw today?

EL: I've been in people industry for-- I was 17 is when I started.  I kind of found my niche doing that type of thing. There's times when you have to be somebody that you're not but at the same time, I'm a big Disney fan so coming here and having my own little park and getting to deal with people? I deal with them like I thought [Walt] Disney would and I enjoy it. I love my job. There's nobody that loves this job as much as I do. I've taught myself patience, which is one thing you have to deal with the public to begin with. But you also have to know who somebody is when you walk up to them and be able to read them. That is something really hard to learn. And I've taught myself it through the years.

Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

Water's Edge RV Resort

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Water's Edge RV Resort, which is nestled between Sarasota and Fort Myers along Florida’s Gulf Coast in Punta Gorda. Many active adults choose Punta Gorda as their retirement home because of its sub-tropical warmth, affordable living and the many area amenities.

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