Posted: 08/04/2009 01:00:00 AM MDT
Updated: 08/04/2009 06:13:02 AM MDT
Logan Watson, 13, jumps a bump at Bohn Park in Lyons. As urban mountain-biking parks become more numerous on the Front Range, their rugged terrain can also attract BMX riders. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)
BOULDER — Skateboarders have their own concrete courtyards. Kayakers enjoy whitewater playparks in dozens of riverside towns. Now mountain bikers are getting their own in-town places to play.
A $4.1 million bike park under construction in Boulder, a half- dozen others already open, and circuits proposed for Golden and Denver mark yet another step in the park-and-play progression that has brought high-country sports to Colorado's downtown landscapes.
The concept is simple: Bring the playground to the people, where skills can develop without a drive deep into the hills.
"It's bringing the backcountry or action sports experience to the front country," said Ryan Schutz, Rocky Mountain regional director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, which promotes the urban bike park as a gateway to mountain biking.
Colorado has been quick to embrace the concept of a one-stop spot to learn and compete. There are 26 whitewater playparks in the state, about a quarter of the nation's total.
Schutz expects something similar to happen with bike parks.
"The active lifestyle is so important here, and I see the bike park taking off in Colorado before anywhere else," he said.
A decade ago, Colorado's ski resorts began sculpting mountainside trails into bike-ready singletracks, with many resorts, including SolVista, Keystone and Winter Park, adding downhill-specific trails with ramps, elevated paths and obstacles that cater to the new-school "freeride" cyclists.
Cities along the Front Range co-opted the concept. Lyons, Castle Rock and Lakewood have set aside areas for trails training and freeriding, and the Colorado Mountain Bike Association is asking Golden to approve a bike park in the city's Tony Grampsas Park.
Fort Collins a freeriding first
Fort Collins went first, dedicating a portion of its 100-acre Spring Canyon park for freeride bicyclists in 2007.
Spring Canyon riders pilot their bikes over logs, rocks, ramps and berms. The area is connected to Fort Collins' web of regional trails.
Craig Foreman, Fort Collins' park development director, said Spring Canyon is heavily used and local riders have become its stewards, volunteering to maintain trails and features.
A $200,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado jump-started construction of the $4.1 million Valmont Bike Park in Boulder, a 45-acre complex that will include a clubhouse, singletrack trails, a terrain park, a cyclocross race course and viewing plazas for competition spectators. The park will include terrain for riders of all abilities.
Plans for the park began in 1996, when the city of Boulder acquired a former chicken farm near its eastern boundary.
Boulder's biking community shifted planning into high gear nearly three years ago, lobbying local leaders with their never-been-done-before idea.
"No one had ever built a cycling facility like this," said Bobby Noyes , a Boulder cyclist who helped sculpt the Valmont park plan.
Pedaling big dreams
Through the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance, local pedalers have raised $158,000 to fund the park's construction and maintenance.
Already, cyclists are dreaming big.
They think the Boulder park could anchor a national mountain bike racing league. It could regularly host school kids and provide a venue for teaching bike safety, delivering lessons that could ultimately dilute the growing animosity between cyclists and drivers. It could be the home to national cyclocross championships, which appeals to the Front Range's 2,500 licensed cyclocross racers.
"The potential is huge for what we are about to create here," said Chris Grealish, a Boulder bike racer who promotes and stages international cyclocross races, which feature off-road racing on short, muddy, obstacle-riddled tracks.
It's not just for cyclists, though. Planners hope that as the state's whitewater playparks evolve into spectator-friendly riverside hangouts, the Boulder park's appeal will reach beyond pedalers.
(And for the record, the park's plans include a dog park and traditional playground equipment.)
"We are hoping this becomes a community amenity that will be used by more than just cyclists," said city parks planner Perry Brooks.
In the past couple of years, the urban bike park concept has gained traction nationwide. One is under construction in Grand Rapids, Mich. Bike groups in Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Orlando, Fla., are jockeying for city approval and funding to develop urban bike playgrounds. A park in Chicago and Seattle's new Interstate 5 Colonnade Mountain Bike Park — tucked beneath an interstate overpass — have become international models for what cities can do for local off-road cyclists.
Ski operator eyes Denver
In Denver, Winter Park ski area operator Intrawest is developing plans to build a 4-acre downhill bike course at North Barnum Park, a sort of summer equivalent of the ski resort's winter activities at Denver's Ruby Hill park.
Intrawest's idea is to groom the next generation of riders who might someday visit Winter Park's expanding network of downhill and freeride trails, while a dilapidated Denver park gets an upgrade.
"This could be a well-structured spot for riders to develop their skills," said Bob Holme, manager of Winter Park's bike park, "and it's a chance to reach out to kids in the city and get them involved in the sport of cycling."
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374or firstname.lastname@example.org