War Memorial hosts crowd at Explore Park Bike Trails meeting

Biking enthusiast Gary Myers of Vinton (on left) shares his suggestions with Scott Linnenburger of Kay-Linn Enterprises, who are involved in the design of a Mountain Skills Bike Park at Explore Park at a community meeting on January 18 at the Vinton War Memorial.

Roanoke County extended an invitation to the public to help design the planned Mountain Bike Skills Park at Explore Park. Two community meetings were held—one of them at the Vinton War Memorial on January 18.

The Vinton meeting was packed with bike enthusiasts eager to learn more about the county’s plans for the bike park and to offer their suggestions.

The county plans to incorporate ideas from citizens into the design for the bike park, which they hope will be used extensively by “individuals and families seeking adventure and enrichment in the outdoors.”

The county plans for the design phase to be completed in early spring. Construction on the bike skills park is expected to begin this summer, and is slated for completion by the end of 2018.

Explore Park is already known as a regional destination for biking and hiking with over 14 miles of trails. Roanoke County hopes to expand the park’s reputation beyond the Blue Ridge.

The county has contracted with a group of trail and skills element design firms to make recommendations and produce actionable plans for the facility. They will create a design plan for trail improvements and a skills facility which will emphasize beginner and intermediate skills development.

Recreational planner Scott Linnenburger from Kay-Linn Enterprises delivered a Powerpoint presentation on the possibilities that exist in planning a bike skills park. Based in Colorado, he has worked on over 100 trail projects, both public and private. His team will work with Balzer and Associates to develop a plan for the bike park and trail system.

Linnenburger talked about what bike parks are, who uses them, and their benefits to the community. He said that currently bike parks are trending–the fastest growing types of park facilities in the United States.

Bike parks are a “great activity for a wide range of users all enjoying the same facility at the same time.” Such facilities encourage families to play together—some riding and some off-bike spectating. They teach new riders skills in a fun way.

Such parks provide not only health benefits for riders, but build confidence through a gradual progression of skill development, increasing bike safety.

Linnenburg talked about the impacts of bike parks which stretch outside the facility and reverberate economically and even socially. He spoke of his excitement at seeing groups of middle school students biking with no cell phones or social media devices on hand—a rare sight these days. He talked about the possibility of summer skills camps for children and youth.

He spoke of building bike riding for children “back into our culture” providing an escape from television, video games, and other sedentary activities.

A “purpose-built bike park” brings a mixed group of bike enthusiasts and potential enthusiasts together. Bike parks are both “community-building” and relatively inexpensive to develop when compared with other sports and recreational facilities like ball fields.

Linnenburger told the audience that bike parks provide “a great return on investment” in that larger bike parks “can become destination draws and thus improve local economies.”

He described possible components of a bike park facility which could incorporate (in addition to the trails) skills training areas and dirt features such as Pump tracks, jumps, bermed turns, and flow and rhythm trails. Skills could be developed on improved existing trails, on new trails, or adjacent to the trails.

Many design possibilities were discussed for the Mountain Bike Skills Park to be developed at Explore Park, including adding wood features to build skills.

The design plan could include wood features of varying difficulty like wood bridges, log rides, and skinnies, rock gardens and boulder features (already plentiful at Explore Park), and possibly even more advanced features such as Slopestyle, 4X, and dual slalom, although these are generally found more at private bike parks.

The durability of selected features would need to be taken into account in designing the park. Supporting facilities would also need to be included in the plan.

Linnenburger said that once the need and desire for a bike skills park has been established by the community at large, the most successful ones organize stakeholders and partners to complete the project by developing “the right facility” for the area—”what fits and doesn’t fit at Explore Park.” That is the county’s goal in seeking public input.

Several members of the Roanoke County Parks, Recreation, and Tourism staff, including Director Doug Blount, were circulating after the presentation to take suggestions—written and oral–from those in attendance.

Blount has described Explore Park as the “jewel of Roanoke County.” His focus is on making sure the bike skills park will work “in unison” with the remainder of park facilities and programs under development.

Supervisor Phil North, formerly president of the Vinton Recreation Club and now representing the Hollins District on the Board of Supervisors, was there to interact with the public as well.

Representatives were on hand from the Roanoke Chapter of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. They define themselves as “a group of dedicated individuals whose mission is to create, enhance, and preserve trail opportunities in Roanoke and the surrounding areas.”

Some suggestions the county received from those attending the meeting were:  to provide more beginner-friendly trails than currently exist at Explore Park, to provide a wide variety of levels allowing for a progression of skills, to balance bike and training wheel-friendly sections of the park, and to clearly mark trails by skill levels.

Some requested jumps for “youth of all ages,” a Summer Slalom series, Pump tracks, and even Mountain Bike Camps. Others suggested shorter, stacked loops to add variety to existing trails, and improved navigation and signage maps. One expressed hope for a “bike-optimized versus multi-use optimized trail experience.”

Attendees encouraged reaching out to local high schools and colleges and bike clubs in the planning and design stages.

Linneburger said that once the design is finalized, actual construction will be bid out to companies with small-trail building expertise. Most of the trails will be less than four feet wide, requiring small excavators, bulldozers, and compactors, which must navigate through the trees.

All in all, organizers and attendees were very enthusiastic and energized about the developing plans for the bike park. Community input meetings in Roanoke County have proven over and over again to be a successful means of garnering support from the public and turning them into stakeholders in visionary projects which then become reality.

The meeting concluded with a raffle for a kids’ bike and a Garmin Edge 20 to generate excitement in the crowd—courtesy of East Coasters Bicycles.

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