About 85 members of the Rogue Valley Mountain Bike Association (RVMBA) packed into a classroom at The Grove spilled out into the hallway as they turned out in force to make the case for a bike park to Ashland Parks and Recreation commissioners. About a third of those in attendance were kids.
They want a bike skills park in Ashland, according to RVMBA board member Casey Botts. Although that topic wasn’t on the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission meeting agenda for Dec. 10, the group spoke up during the public forum period to remind the commissioners they’re still looking for a location.
“We wanted to show our numbers and advocate as a united front for what we think is a critical link to mountain biking in Ashland,” Botts said. “We want to make sure that we stay on the front burner. We’re going to be active as we work towards getting this project done.”
Botts said the group, which is a couple hundred strong, started looking for a location about a year ago. They settled on Ashland Creek Park but received negative feedback from neighbors in the area. So, they started their search again and landed on the Lincoln School property at 320 Beach St.
The bike enthusiasts hope is that APRC can strike up a lease with the Ashland School District, the property owners. District Thoreau School alternative education, wrestling and robotics programs use some of the classrooms; other space is leased to Children's World Montessori school and the Klamath Bird Observatory.
Melissa Mitchell-Hooge, advocate for the group Save our Schools and Playgrounds, said ASD doesn’t want to sell the property to parks, but are in negotiation for a long-term lease, possibly for 50-100 years.
The cost of the project would be around $200,000. Botts said he’s confident the group could find funds through grants and community support, but a location must be approved first.
“We are pursuing several locations around Ashland,” Botts said. “However, the Lincoln school site makes, by far, the most sense for what we’re looking for, but we’re open to anything.”
He compared the plethora of mountain biking trails in the Ashland watershed to the Mount Ashland ski slopes.
“The trails we have are great and draw people in from all over the West Coast to ride here, but they’re not considered green trails,” Botts said. “They’re more like blue squares, black diamonds if you use the ski analogies.”
He said the trails are too difficult for a beginner or a young child.
“A lot of our trails are more difficult, and this would open the sport up to kids who might not be able to go up into the mountain,” Botts said. “This would be right in town.”
Botts said the park would be accessible for all ages and that there’s a huge want from the larger community, as shown by the 80-odd people who crammed into the tiny classroom. Botts said he sent out a notice only two days before the meeting asking for people to come to the meeting.
Botts said he started a youth mountain biking team this past year, the Rogue Composite Mountain Bike Team, consisting of 22 sixth through 12 graders. He said the idea was so popular that the group filled up immediately and resulted with about 10 kids on a waiting list.
“We actually had the biggest team in Oregon out of 11 teams,” Botts said.
Team Captain Ryan Kanahele is a sophomore at North Medford High School. He said he considers himself an advanced rider and hadn’t found other kids who enjoyed his hobby until the team was formed.
“There are so many other kids who share the same interest, and there’s not many places in Southern Oregon to practice these skills,” Kanahele said. “A lot of the trails in the Ashland area that have more jumpy features are hard for people to access because they’re so high up on the mountain.”
Botts said that Ashland Mountain Adventure shuttled about 3,000 mountain bikers this year. Botts said that’s a substantial number given the amount of smoke that choked the valley.
“There’s hundreds, if not thousands of people in this valley who bike consistently,” Botts said.
He said this park will be much better than the BMX park near the dog park on West Nevada St.
“It’s not an attractive place to spend time because it smells bad, the star-thistles grow and it’s hard to maintain the soil,” Botts said. “However, even with those adverse conditions, it’s still pretty-well used which goes to show that we need somewhere new to do this.”
The new park would be professionally designed and built.
Coincidentally, the school board held a meeting the same night and Botts spoke at that meeting also.
Deneice Zeve, Ashland School Board chair, said the district is waiting until they hire a program manager for the new bond before they determine how to proceed with the Lincoln property. She said the hope is to have a manager by March.
Mitchell-Hooge said it’s her understanding that the project might not be addressed until June.
Mitchell-Hooge said her organization has been working to preserve the park since the school closed in 2005. She said the suggestion for the pump track was only mentioned a few weeks ago, but so far neighborhood feedback is positive.
She said she hopes to have a Lincoln neighborhood meeting soon to discuss the idea.
She also said they’ve raised about $1,000 for the park renovation. ASD stopped watering the land, so a few trees have died, and weeds have grown.
Botts said many playgrounds are replaced with pump tracks in Europe, because “you don’t outgrow a pump track like you do a playground.”
“I’ve seen my own daughters grow substantially through pushing themselves on their bikes and to have a safe, sustainable place to do that is something that the community needs,” Botts said.
To give feedback on the project or donations, contact Melissa Mitchell-Hooge at 541-944-8946.
(Dec. 21: Story updated to correct erroneous statement that the school district no longer uses Lincoln School classrooms.)