Velodrome Spins Out 

Bike park adjusts its mission to the economy

Amid the West Ada County Foothills lies an ovally vision, unique and unfinished.

The roughly-6,000-square foot Idaho Velodrome and Cycling Park patiently awaits its crown jewel: an actual velodrome. But velo officials warn interested riders not to hold their breath.

"There's been plenty of donations that have been helpful, but $100,000 doesn't go too far," said Mike Cooley, treasurer of the Idaho Velodrome and Cycling Park Association, the nonprofit group overseeing and managing the park. "The money was used the best it could be, but it's all gone--we spent every penny."

Cooley said his association received about $140,000 in grants and donations to develop one of the biggest bicycle parks found anywhere, but that money was spent on an assortment of start-up costs before the actual velodrome could be built. Ground has been graded, but Cooley estimates the costs to finish the track at around $1.5 million.

"We had to narrow down our wish list," he said.

A velodrome is a highly groomed, smooth, indoor or outdoor track used by single-gear bike racers. It can be made of wood or grass. There are about two dozen such tracks in the United States, according to fixedgearfever.com, and several more in the planning stage. Despite lacking a velodrome, an assortment of dirt trails make the bike park in Eagle unique.

"The park is awesome. We are really lucky to have something like this in Boise," said James Runner, a local mountain biker. "It's been great for bringing out a lot of young riders."

Runner has raced at the park, which already has a number of events planned for this summer. In fact, the association is meeting with Ada County in the hopes of opening up more trails for longer cross-country courses. Due to its sheer size, the park property is shared by different owners, including the City of Eagle and Ada County.

"You could say that we are talking with Ada County to try and open up some of the trails to cross-country racing," said Brad Nelson, a board member of the bike park association.

Nelson said some of the parkland is part of Ada County's Ridge to Rivers trail system that forbids racing. He is working with county officials to reach an agreement for race exceptions at the park. Currently, Nelson said the bike park offers cross-country racing, but opening up the park's Ridge to Rivers trails could considerably extend the loops used for such races.

As the park stands, the dirt bike section is massive, with miles of maintained trails. Volunteers have donated more than 10,000 hours in the last few years to create more than 15 bike trails that offer different styles (downhill, slalom and cross-country) for different skill levels (beginner, hobbyist and expert). The park also includes a skate park, restrooms and a picnic area. Best of all, it's free.

"It's unique. There's nothing else [as big] in North America," said Phil Vega, owner of Joyride Cycles, a Boise bike shop that also sells Joyride Bike Park Beans--coffee beans, that is--and donates proceeds to the park.

Vega said he is thrilled about the park, which offers Treasure Valley riders a great location to practice, race and socialize. He said his shop has sponsored fundraisers to help raise thousands of dollars to support the park. However, he believes the velodrome is on a dying course.

"The organizers have tried multiple fundraisers to build it, but have had zero luck," he said.

Nelson said many organizations and individuals donated money, but not in the generous amounts organizers forecasted when they created the park as a nonprofit in 2006. He said the start-up money was used to establish the park by building dirt trails, in hopes to attract more donations afterward.

It is a similar story with other recreational parks in the area. A whitewater park on the Boise River was envisioned as a $6.7-million utopian dream for kayakers. And while the first phase of the Boise River Recreation Park is currently under construction, only one-third of the total funds have been raised.

In Cascade, Kelly's Whitewater Park was only able to meet its construction goals after an unexpected $3-million donation came from a Florida couple who learned about that park while vacationing at their second home in Tamarack. Organizers hope to have it ready to use by this spring. As for the velodrome, Nelson surmised the tough economy ruined their projected donations.

"I think it all comes down to money," he said.

It seems hard to imagine the velodrome is on the park association's radar anymore. Other than a sign at the track, which reads "riding soon," the Web site is shut down and no official phone number is available. However, Nelson said volunteers continue to work the dirt side of the track for maintenance and upkeep. Despite the mystery surrounding the velodrome, he and Cooley assure the public that the park has become a force to reckon with.

"I know people are coming down from all over to ride it, even Canada," said Cooley. "It's a great, first-class asset to Ada County."

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