Four years ago the owner of Mud Muckers, the vast and once-popular ATV park over some 3,000 acres southwest of Bunnell, posted an end-of-life notice to it customers.
“It is with heavy heart,” the Feb. 11, 2018 notice read, “that i have to tell you that after nine years, with no LIGITEMENT reason, the owners of mudmuckers property have told us to GET OUT despite our lease agreement. We have worked our hardest to make MUDMUCKERS a great family fun park and were very successful. We had 9 wonderful years of camping, riding and professional entertainment and through no fault of our own we were told to vacate the property. Great patrons, wonderful new friends and a place to go to promote family unity and good fun is now gone. We are looking for a new location and will keep you informed.. thank you everyone for all your support and god bless.”
The statement was not quite accurate.
But this much was: Mud Muckers closed and hasn’t re-opened anywhere else since. Its web domain went up for sale. And a few months later Mud Muckers sued George Allen and the Allen Operating Company (“the name of a bank account, that’s all it is,” Allen would say in a deposition: it’s not a registered company in Florida), which owns the land, alleging a breach of contract. They also claimed they were kept from retrieving property left on the land. Mud Muckers was owned by Robert Harris and William Stevens of Volusia County.
A year ago Circuit Judge Terence Perkins ruled against Mud Muckers, granting the land owners a motion for summary judgment. And today, a three-judge panel of the Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed the ruling in a unanimous, one-word order.
Until now, Mud Muckers’s sudden closure was never reported anywhere except in that Facebook post. Court and St. Johns River Water Management District documents that accumulated over the four years of the lawsuit underscore the inaccuracies in that final statement. Principally: the St. Johns River Water Management District had investigated Mud Muckers and found wetlands violations in 2013.
The district had started an investigation after receiving two complaints in July 2013. One phoned-in tip was “from an individual who was reporting that ATV and other motorized traffic was leaving the mud bog site off CR 90 and going into the adjacent wetlands and creekbed and driving in the area,” according to a water management district chronology of the investigation.
District investigators visited the land in August 2013 and took turbidity samples from tributaries that drain into Haw Creek. “Numerous bogging trails were evident within the forested, wetland floodplain” of Hunter Branch, for example, one of the tributaries, two investigators found. The following month the district investigated further after one of Mud Muckers’s advertised events and found several mud bog trails into Haw Creek, and mud plumes in the creek itself, with elevated levels of turbidity. A lot of what the investigators observed–creek crossings in wetlands–would have required engineering and environmental permits from the district.
After meeting with Allen, Harris and Stevens, district officials drew up a plan to contain mud bogging to specific areas, along with fencing requirements. By 2014, Mud Muckers were looking for a different location, and the lease, which had ended in November 2013, was not renewed “due to the environmental concerns,” according to Allen. (Lease terms had called for gate proceeds to be split 60-40, with 40 percent going to Allen’s land company and 60 percent going to Mud Muckers.)
It eventually moved northwest of County Road 304, east of Old Haw Creek Road and north of Chicken Farms Road, with pledges that the trails would be monitored, according to Allen in a February 2016 email to the district. The district gave its go-ahead. A renewed lease was never sent Allen, and after the move, “due to a lack of mud, the other site did not work for them,” he wrote in a 2020 affidavit. “As a result, the lease renewal was never agreed upon by the parties.”
Mud Muckers’s lawsuit was claiming damages of more than $15,000 and claimed the land owners had denied them access to the property. Allen and the land owners hired Dennis Bayer, the Flagler Beach land use attorney, and fought the lawsuit. In July 2020 Bayer filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the lease was not renewed because of environmental damages caused by Mud Muckers to the wetlands, and that “isolated events occurred until March 2016 when a new, upland site was used” by Mud Muckers for ATV events. “However, due to a lack of mud, the event did not work, and no further efforts were undertaken.”
Bayer in his motion argued that Mud Muckers failed to properly monitor customers’ ATV use and “failed to mark trails and sensitive wetlands and to protect those lands from damage.”
He argued that Mud Muckers’ owners were granted opportunities to access the land to retrieve their property. Perkins ruled for the land owners and against Mud Muckers. Today’s decision by the Fifth District upholding Perkins’s order appears to be the end of the story.
Bayer today said it was a relief to reach the end of the case. “My clients did try to work with them on trying to find an alternative site,” he said. It just didn’t work out.”