Cycling community rallies around BMX track

Sunday, July 4, 2010 | 3:53 p.m. CDT; updated 8:57 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 5, 2010

COLUMBIA — Dirt flies everywhere when a BMX racer makes a sharp, 90-degree turn on an embankment and passes one of his many opponents on his bike.  Ahead, he faces more turns, more jumps, and an even more narrow track.  He wants to win too.

This is the more intense side of bicycle motocross, a sport which was first introduced in California in the 1970s, but has more recently made its debut at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

For Columbia resident Steve Carroll, 35, BMX is not about the intensity of the ride or the painful crashes we all see on TV, it's about providing a fun opportunity for his 7-year-old son, Augie.

Excited that Augie could ride a bike, Carroll explored different places to take him such as Rock Bridge State Park and the MKT trail.  He realized he wanted to provide another place for his son to ride.

That's when he decided to do a little research about getting a BMX track in Columbia. Although there are four tracks in Missouri, they are all at least 100 miles from Columbia in Blue Springs, Kansas City, Springfield, and St. Peters. Carroll thought it made sense, with the bike community in Columbia, to toss a BMX track into the mix.

"I didn't know where to start," said Carroll, shrugging his shoulders, "I wanted to quietly get a number of people who were interested."

He turned to Facebook.

Since it began in late April, the group, "We Want a BMX Track in Columbia" now has 97 members.

One member, George Vick has been racing for 15 years. Based in Wentzville, Vick travels around the country to race. He thinks that riding and racing BMX provide good life skills for children.

"A lot of kids ride their bikes," he said. "The track provides a good outlet for them ... keeps them off the street."

Vick, a father of two BMX racers aged 10 and 12, spends a lot of time traveling around the country with his children for races. "They seem enthused about riding," he said. "They got burnt out there for a while, traveling, but I think it's starting to come full-circle."

MU nutrition and fitness student Cody Phelps said "It all comes down to exercise. A bike is a great way to get outside, be in the sun, get a tan, and hang out with friends."

Phelps admits that there would have to be as much support from the city as citizens of Columbia.

"The city will definitely have to be behind it, we don't want people to think it's just a place for a bunch of punk kids to hangout," he said.

The challenge right now is transforming encouraging words into action.

"We haven't had much momentum in the past couple weeks," Carroll said.

One of the key components in this effort will be gathering a solid support system to encourage the idea of a track and see it through meetings, budget and location discussions, and beyond. Carroll knows this will require a joint effort between the group and Parks & Recreation for the long road ahead.

Mike Griggs, a parks services manager for Columbia's Parks & Recreation, said, "We realize how hard it is. But we don't want to build something that becomes an eyesore or a costly maintenance site that is unused."

Other tracks across Missouri grew step-by-step. Scott Morrow, track manager at Raytown BMX in Kansas City said, "When Raytown started out, it didn't have lights, so all the racing had to be done during the day."

Morrow said a big part of establishing a solid track is maintaining a strong volunteer base when the track has to be rebuilt after every race, to repair the wear from riding.

A solid support community has worked for Columbia in the past. The Remote Control Car Track and the Skatepark at Cosmopolitan Park had similar beginnings. Each established associations, hold public meetings, set up budgets and seeing to it that the property is used and maintained.

Which means Carroll likely faces a long road ahead.

"It's a double-edged sword," Griggs said. "Users think, 'why can't they just build it,' we think, 'Well we need a solid group of users.'"

Griggs also said that building a BMX track "has probably been brought up a dozen times in the past 10 years and it always seemed to fizzle out."

But Griggs also said he his department sees a track as an unmet need in Columbia. "As the community grows, there might be a need for it," he said.

"It's a sport anyone can participate in," Carroll said. "For some kids, baseball and soccer's not their thing.  BMX provides a good social atmosphere."

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