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Cyclists seek obstacle course for Santa Rosa park

Published: Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 2:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 2:18 p.m.

Planning is underway to build a dirt obstacle course for bicycles known as a pump track in Northwest Community Park in Santa Rosa.

Backers, including retired pro cyclist Levi Leipheimer, turned out to support the concept at a Board of Community Services meeting Thursday.

The board, which advises the City Council largely on park projects, expressed unanimous support for the track, which would be built using volunteer labor and private donations.

Pump tracks are like skateparks for bicycles. The object is to go around the track's humps and tight turns with little or no pedaling. Riders instead rely on their upper bodies to generate momentum by pumping down on the handlebars as they descend the track's ramps and features, similar to the way pumping your legs forward on a swing makes you swing higher.

Pump tracks are popular because they are inexpensive to build, can be located in a tight area, and are not very dangerous, according to Douglas McKenzie, a mechanic at Spoke Folk Cyclery in Healdsburg.

McKenzie, 54, said he's been trying to figure out how to get a pump track built here since he rode one two years ago at the Morgan Hill headquarters of the Specialized bicycle company.

“I fell in love with it,” McKenzie said. “I'm like, 'We need one of these up in Santa Rosa,'”

He checked with the city about appropriate locations, and initially was steered toward southwest Santa Rosa, he said. But since McKenzie lives near Piner Road and anticipates needing to check on the track regularly to keep it well-maintained, he held out for something closer to home, he said.

Then he spotted an aerial view of a circular patch of weeds in Northwest Community Park near the dog park.

“I went, 'Oh my God, this is perfect,'” McKenzie said.

The 24-foot wide circle is the former location of a playground that was moved further south in the park several years ago, said Lisa Grant, city parks superintendent.

“We're really excited about this opportunity,” Grant said. “It's not a very expensive type of feature, but it can sure bring a heck of a lot of recreational activity into a park.”

Details have yet to be worked out. An amendment to the park's Master Plan will have to be drawn up and approved by the City Council, Grant said. She has told supporters not to expect to be able to start work until summer at the earliest.

“There's a lot of work that we'll be doing before this is ready to take the next step,” Grant said.

Leipheimer pledged financial support for the project at Thursday's meeting through his VeloStreet charity, McKenzie said. Carlos Perez, co-founder of Bike Monkey, which puts on Levi's GranFondo and other local cycling events, was also there in support.

Some questions about the city's liability came up at Thursday's meeting, but McKenzie said those concerns seemed assuaged.

“The potential for injury is higher in a soccer game than there is for a pump track,” he said.

Support seems to be building for it, he said. Soon after posting a Facebook page about the project, it has received 454 likes, he said.

“I was blown away,” McKenzie said.

As he and friends rode their bikes in the skate park at Youth Community Park, Piner High School student Kenneth De La Torre, 16, says it's a shame that in such a strong cycling community there are no facilities for BMX riders. The closest public pump track is in Sacramento, he said.

“At this point, basically we've got nowhere we can go,” De La Torre said.

Someone built an unapproved BMX course with steep ramps in the woods at the northern end of the park, but it has fallen into disrepair, he said. It is now mostly used by people playing with paintball and airsoft guns, he said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.)

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