A Moutain Bike Park in Orlando?

January 29th, 2011

After many years, wasted land that was formerly a decommissioned Navy base will soon become Orlando’s first mountain bike park.

Hidden a few blocks north of Colonial Drive near downtown, the partially wooded property used to be home to warehouses and a dry-cleaning facility for the Orlando Naval Training Center. The husks of those buildings remain, but to the numerous mountain bike enthusiasts, the site couldn’t be better.

“The response has been overwhelming,” said Janice Rahill of Orlando’s parks division. “Everyone is very excited about this.”

It’s not unusual for a city park to cost $1 million or more. But the mountain-bike park might have the distinction of being the cheapest to build and maintain of any in Orlando. Other than staff time, the city is putting little money into it.

The Winter Park Health Foundation awarded the project a $50,000 grant last year. Volunteers are doing the trail building. There have been two cleanups so far to clear out invasive-plant species; about 200 volunteers showed up for the first, and 150 for the second.

A local chapter of the Ocala Mountain Bike Association has agreed to maintain the park’s trails.

“Except for mowing the grass, volunteers will be taking care of it,” Rahill said.

The bare-bones approach is vital, given the city’s budget deficits during the past several years.

In two weeks, those two-wheeled volunteers will return to the woods and begin cutting “single track”: bumpier-the-better paths just wide enough for one bike — and the preferred mode of travel for mountain bikers.

There will be two trails, one winding but relatively smooth ride for beginners, and a tougher one with built-in terrain features for more advanced riders.

In March, an expert who has designed mountain bike parks across the country will start the weeklong process of building a specialized “pump track” at the site in Orlando. At about 10,000 square feet, the pump track will feature a series of small humps and tight turns formed from earthen berms. It’s designed to give mountain bikers a thrill while building skills.

Ben Blitch of Park City, Utah, is among the best-known pump-track and trail builders in the country, having worked on 28 so far. At less than 20 acres, Orlando’s mountain-bike park will be small compared with many, but its location near downtown means many bikers will have easy access, he said.

“The potential for that site is mind-blowing,” Blitch said. “It’s a really unique place.”

Blitch and local bikers had been toying with the idea of a mountain-bike park in Orlando for years, at one point even considering the grassy slopes of Interstate 4’s downtown cloverleaf and underpasses.

Likewise, the current site of the park for years seemed as if it might sit unused. In 1999, when Orlando took possession of most of the land that made up the mothballed Orlando Naval Training Center, city officials resisted taking this chunk of land.

Portions of the site were contaminated with potentially hazardous tetrachloroethene, an industrial solvent. After a cleanup that cost millions, the Navy and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection certified that the property was clean enough to pose no danger, and it was conveyed to the city in 2009.

City officials hope that within a year or two, the park will tie in with an extension of the paved Cady Way Trail. Blitch also sees potential in the cluster of run-down Navy-era warehouses, which he said could be transformed into indoor tracks that could be used during Florida’s summer thunderstorms.

“We’re just taking the first baby steps right now,” said software engineer Frank Belaska, a volunteer and local member of the Ocala Mountain Bike Association. “But there’s a great long-term vision.”

The park is expected to be open by June at the latest.

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