Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hailey bike park starting to roll

Riding opportunities to expand in Hailey

Express Staff Writer

Both offroad bicyclists and motorcyclists will soon get the opportunity to test and improve their skills, thanks to the commitment of valley cycling guru Billy Olson.

Olson, co-founder of the nonprofit organization Sun Valley Road & Dirt, along with help from Big Wood Backcountry Trails, the International Mountain Biking Association and a number of other sponsors, is on the verge of a complete renovation of the bike park on the backside of Rotarun Ski Area, west of Hailey.

With groundbreaking set for Monday, July 9, Olson is hoping to complete the first phase, a renovated racetrack along with a skill development area, by the end of July, although this timeline will depend on the amount of volunteer support.

In order to kick off the construction properly, Road & Dirt will host the Sheeptown Fat Tire Rally from Friday, June 29, through Sunday, July 1, with Saturday's races taking place at the Rotarun bike park.

Knobby tires won't be a novelty on the dirt of the new bike park, as Wood river BMX originally leased the land from Blaine County, operating a BMX track for nearly a decade. However, due to lack of funds the property returned to county hands, and soon the site, located just more than three miles west of Hailey in Croy Canyon, fell into disrepair. It was covered in empty beer cans and spent shotgun shells.

While there's an abundance of mountain trails in the area, Olson, who co-founded Road & Dirt six years ago with the aim of enhancing riding opportunities in the valley, noticed a lack of challenging terrain for riders looking to develop the more gravity-oriented skills of the sport, specifically jumping. As a result, younger riders were losing interest and turning to other adrenaline sports, such as skateboarding.

Not willing to sit by complacently, Olson picked up the lease for the land, for $1 per year, along with trailer loads of trash, all in preparation for a massive project that will include a network of trails extending throughout the surrounding hills.

But it will all start with the bike track.

"There's been an incredible history here," Olson said, referring to the motocross races that took place there for decades. "We don't want to abandon its roots."

With financial help from Big Wood Backcountry Trails, the International Mountain Bike Association's Trail Solutions was hired to consult and work on the construction.

"There will be all kinds of fun stuff, with a mix of attractions, including jumps and technical trail features, for both bike and motocross" Olson said.

The BMX track will be restricted to bicycles, and a motocross-specific area will be set farther back from the road in order to help with noise abatement, Olson said.

And this is only the beginning.

Olson said he has also become involved in the Bureau of Land Management's environmental study of travel and recreation management in the area. The plan could allow for build out of the park over the next few years if everything goes to plan, Olson said, adding that Rotarun is the obvious choice for a major trailhead.

"The problem is that it's a patchwork down there between county, state, and federal property," he said. "It makes it tough when trying to create a comprehensive trail system."

The extent of task undertaken by Olson, who also runs Mobile Cycle Repair and Powerhouse, a bike fitting studio in Hailey, has not been lost on the area's cycling community.

"Billy's impact on the local riding scene has been profound, and the results of his efforts here in the valley speak for themselves," said Greg Randolph, a manager of bike promotions at Smith Sport Optics, which is one of the project's sponsors. "He has great vision and the bike park is another proactive step he has taken not only toward building a strong riding community here in the Wood River Valley. This is going to be awesome."

For more information on how to contribute to the bike park or the Sheeptown Fat Tire Rally, Olson can be contacted at 481-0300.

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