About 18 months ago, the city of Fresno Parks, After School, Recreation & Community Services Department (PARCS) embarked on a mission to create a bike complex at one of its most beloved regional areas–Woodward Park. With the right combination of available open space, BMX enthusiasts hungry for a place to ride and a director with a distinct vision to create action sports destinations, Fresno had just the formula necessary to make it happen.
Many cyclists in Fresno have traveled some distance to find a unique setting to race and train. While the city recognized a need for a place that could serve local bicycle motocross (BMX) riders, mountain-bike trials riders and BMX trials riders, PARCS wanted to create a venue that would attract state and national events, help drive tourism and the local economy, and provide local action sports athletes a place to enjoy their hobbies in a controlled environment. The PARCS staff envisioned a destination that could host televised events and bring national acclaim to the sixth largest city in California.
PARCS soon designed a complex with three distinct pieces–a BMX track, a mountain-bike progression park and a BMX dirt jump park, or “free ride” area–to serve all local cycling enthusiasts. While heavy on potential, the project needed funding and a maintenance program to keep it alive. PARCS sought and won council approval to utilize its impact fees to support the project. The fees are collected from developers to support the city’s parks system. City council also recently approved a $32.6 million impact-fee bond to allow the department to embark on the largest park development and expansion plan in its history, to jump-start 27 capital improvements projects, including the estimated half-million dollar Woodward Bike Complex.
Before construction began, PARCS had to complete and submit a conditional-use permit for the development of the bike complex. Included in the permit was an environmental impact study where surveyors were sent to study the 57-acre site to make sure the development was not going to be detrimental to the environment, or cause harm or destruction to natural habitats. When the study was completed, permission was granted to move forward with the project.
Mountain Bike Skills Progression Park
PARCS sought the expert services of HILRIDE–a progression development group with a vision for creating biking destinations–to design, plan, and oversee the construction of the Mountain Bike Progression Park. Much to the department’s satisfaction, HILRIDE designed the most progressive mountain-bike park in California. The 10-acre park provides progression-based riding opportunities for beginner-, intermediate- and expert-level riders. The park includes a downhill trail with 40 progressive table-top jumps in a row, a cross-country “single track” time trial course, a “North and South Shore” elevated progression trail over one-quarter mile in length (the longest on the West Coast), an observed trials rock garden and a pump track.
Community support was invaluable during construction, as more than 1,800 hours of volunteer time were contributed to the course, which saved the city over $35,000 in labor costs. The volunteers also spend time at the track and share knowledge of proper riding etiquette to those new to trail riding. Their presence has helped establish a safer environment, and allows riders of all skill levels the opportunity to venture onto the track.
BMX Race Track
PARCS established a valuable relationship with the National Bicycle League (NBL), and was excited when the NBL approached the department with its desire to build a BMX race track within city limits. PARCS is now able to implement its goal of attracting racers from throughout the state to a premier destination as well as to collaborate with local race programs to offer underprivileged youth the opportunity to experience the sport. NBL supported the project by sending international track designer and builder Tom Ritz to work with the PARCS Action Sports Supervisor (a National Champion BMX racer) in creating Fresno’s BMX track. Their goal was to create the best track on the West Coast, and by nearly everyone’s assessment, they succeeded.
Fresno has the first track on the West Coast to have decision makers and pro sections. The track is one-quarter mile long downhill. The second straight splits in half to a decision maker–beginners can choose a course with simple obstacles on the right, and advanced riders can opt for a course with more technical obstacles on the left. Again the third straight splits in half, with an amateur section on the left and a pro section to the right with 25- and 30-foot jumps that make for good racing and excitement for spectators.
Many professional and world-acclaimed BMX racers are also impressed with the new track. “I have traveled to many tracks all over the country and the world, and I can honestly say that the track in Woodward Park is the best in the country,” says Randy Stumpfhauser, GT Bicycles and a four-time world champion. Mike Day, GT Bicycles 2005 NBL National Champion and a 2008 Olympian, says his favorite track is “the BMX track at Woodward Park in Fresno.”
BMX Dirt Jump Park
The BMX dirt jump park has not yet begun construction, but PARCS is hopeful to have it completed by spring 2009. This project is the final phase of the Woodward BMX Complex, and will be constructed when PARCS can schedule Ritz to come back to town to build another facility. Ritz is most known for building the BMX race track in Beijing, China, for the 2008 Summer Olympics. When the dirt jump park is finally complete, the jumps will cover an area of 200,000 square feet. The design will be a product of the expert collaboration of Ritz’s ingenuity and the wishes of local BMXers.
Maintenance is paramount to the success of the program. It may seem somewhat unusual to have the staff water and groom dirt trails; however, in this instance, it is crucial for quality control. Daily maintenance includes:
· Walking through the complex to remove debris and trash
· Watering the obstacles to keep moisture in the ground for dust control
· Filling holes and divots with dirt to prevent the obstacles from breaking down
· Packing the dirt continually for a hard riding surface for optimal safety conditions
· Packing and shaping the obstacles to prevent soil erosion during the wet season
· Watering the trees and cutting the grass within the fenced area of the mountain-bike trail.
The maintenance staff requires extensive knowledge of trail construction and BMX course development. Four staff members are responsible for maintaining the mile-long mountain-bike trail, the quarter-mile downhill BMX race track and the future 200,000-square-foot BMX dirt jump park. In addition to ensuring safe and high-quality trails through inspections, the staff also monitors the complex to make sure riders are wearing proper safety equipment, following park rules and respecting other riders. PARCS intends to set the standard for maintenance programs implemented into a public BMX facility.
Just The Beginning
The addition of the bike complex only adds to the already rich diversity at Woodward Park. At any given time, you can find people feeding the ducks, barbecuing, engaging in all types of recreation, or simply relaxing and admiring the lush scenery. The beauty of the bike complex brings everyone together. You will find families connecting at the BMX track and making lasting friendships. BMX racing is a family sport, and new families become attached quickly because of the hospitality. Every time PARCS hosts an event and local families gather and share in their interest, the action sports mission statement is fulfilled: “Provide the finest action sports facilities for the community, creating a destination for enthusiasts to participate in a sport where nobody rides the bench.”
Heather Heinks is the Community Relations Manager for the Fresno PARCS Department. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
Fresno’s Action Sports Supervisor Ryan Garcia contributed to this article.