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Felton Bike Park Update

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Velocity Bike Park at Mount Hermon promises to be a mountain biking destination like no other in Santa Cruz County.

by Melissa Ott

Nov. 19, 2014—On the parcel of land to the southeast of the Safeway and CVS shopping center in Felton stands an open grassy meadow speckled with oak trees, alive with the singing of birds and prominently displaying a white sign that reads “Proposed Development,” and which describes the plans for this 12-acre patch of natural beauty. Glancing toward the hilly end of the property, one can easily imagine the proposed feature listed on this sign, which is something you can’t find anywhere else in the county: a mountain bike park.

This meadow with its hilly contours is soon to become known as Velocity Bike Park, a property of Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center. Though still awaiting review by the Santa Cruz County Planning Commission and other departments involved in issuing permits for construction, the proposed park is ready to break ground. Ideally, it would be ready to open in summer 2015, but with uncertain timelines for each step in the permitting process, it may be later in the year.

Nothing like this exists in Santa Cruz County. We have four completed pump tracks with another three in progress, miles of singletrack winding through our forests and a four-mile flow trail under construction. But right now, if people want to visit a bike park with a lift system, they have to drive 200 miles to China Peak in the Sierras or even farther to parks near Lake Tahoe or Mammoth. Though this park will be smaller than those in the Sierra, it will be the first of its kind in Santa Cruz, and the diversity of planned bike facilities will create a “velo-city,” or bike city, for the whole community.

Read A Bike Park for Santa Cruz
Read Capitola All In for Pump Track

I recently spoke with Nate Pfefferkorn, director of adventure and recreation programs at Mount Hermon, to find out more about Velocity Bike Park, which also includes a ropes course, community garden, and viewing platform, among other features. (See full proposal here.)

Pfefferkorn enthusiastically described pump tracks for various skill levels, a series of flow trails serviced by a “magic carpet” lift system, and a mountain bike skills section with an aerial airbag, which readers might have seen at the Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival this year in Aptos. It allows riders to land safely on a gigantic, pillowey bag of air when practicing new moves. “This will be a permanent home for it, to provide a safe way to practice aerial trick progression,” says Pfefferkorn.

Magic carpet? Flow trails and pump tracks? An airbag? Yeah, this is a mountain bike park you can’t find anywhere else in the county.

Pfefferkorn says that not only is this the first bike park in Santa Cruz, but it’s also different from any of the parks in this region. “Unlike some of the other parks in the Bay Area or even the local pump tracks, we will be running programs, so that’s unique,” he says.

These programs will include day camp-style week-long programs for youth in the summers, as well as a host of two- to three-hour skills lessons for various levels and all ages. Community members will be able to obtain season passes for the park, rent bikes and pay for individual lessons.

So who’s behind the design? Multiple design firms contributed to the final plan for this park. The mountain bike park was specifically designed for Mount Hermon by Alpine Bike Parks of British Columbia, who also designed Valmont Bike Park in Colorado, the largest public bike park in the country. The overall design for the park was created by Verde Design, Inc. based out of Santa Clara, which has a portfolio of projects ranging from trail master plans to sports parks to community parks.

Why A Mountain Bike Park?

I asked Pfefferkorn how Mount Hermon chose a bike park for this new property. He says Mount Hermon staff conducted a vetting process to find projects that would be complementary to the activities they already do, such as high ropes courses, horseback riding, skateboarding and mountain scootering. “We were trying to find things that were going to be a blessing to the local community, something residents would be excited about, utilize and get behind,” he says.

Another set of criteria was environmental impacts. “We wanted the development footprint to be light, not a dining hall and cabins like we have at other facilities, but mostly open space, mostly natural.”

Efforts have been made in the plan to blend in with the surrounding landscape, using natural colors and materials and placing certain features near the far end of the meadow. There will be a couple buildings, including a concession building with bike rental, snacks, medical staff, and a lounge, as well as a classroom building, but even these will be designed with the environment in mind.

“We want our development practices to be green, so we’re pursuing LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certifications on the new buildings, considering what materials we’re using and where things are sited. We were looking for something that won’t make irreversible changes to the site.”

Especially when compared with a 2008 proposed housing development on the site, this plan certainly meets those criteria. But I was curious how they selected a bike park over other facilities. Some Mount Hermon staff including Pfefferkorn do ride mountain bikes, but there was another reason they chose to build a mountain bike park in Santa Cruz, and it had a lot to do with how much people love to go mountain biking in this county—and for good reason! A large factor in their decision was the fact that, as Pfefferkorn puts it, “Mountain biking is world renowned here because of the industry and the quality of the trails—not all of which are fully sanctioned.”

Many of the trails that are known and loved by our community and mountain bikers from other places are actually unsanctioned, such as those at Upper Campus at UCSC, begging the question: How can we encourage outdoor recreation without criminalizing it? Mount Hermon is hoping to create a place where mountain biking is legal, safe and encouraged. “We hope this can be a place where people can ride safely and legally, allowing industry and advocacy to connect,” says Pfefferkorn.

In addition to mountain bike advocacy connecting with industry, Pfefferkorn also shared that Mount Hermon will integrate environmental advocacy and trail stewardship into its bike programs. “We’ll be covering intentional and sustainable trail design concepts, as well as stewardship practices, such as not braking on soft surfaces and not riding after a rainstorm.”

In their week-long camp programs for youth in summers, there will be even more time to explore these concepts. “We’ll talk about the geology of the land and explain why it’s good to build trails here as opposed to some others places where trail building might not be as sustainable.”

It sounds like Mount Hermon’s new bike park will not only encourage and teach mountain bikers how to shred the gnar but also how to respect it, providing a multifaceted “blessing to the local community” that they are seeking.

So what’s next? On Sept. 24 the project came before the Planning Commission, which voted to revisit the proposal at a future meeting. Pfefferkorn said the first meeting went well, with local bike advocates speaking in favor of the project. There were some environmental and water concerns raised, which he said they are working to address already. He anticipates the next meeting may be in early 2015, but no date has been set yet.

Curious what the local community thinks about this park? Supervisor Bruce McPherson will be holding a Town Hall Forum about the park soon, which he has written about on his website and in the Scotts Valley Times. For details, visit his website. Editor's note:This paragraph was updated on Nov. 21 to correct the name of the publication.

Before the next Planning Commission hearing, community members can submit letters to Robin at Robin.Bolster-Grant@santacruzcounty.us. To stay updated about future meetings, Pfefferkorn recommends liking the Velocity Bike Parks Facebook page.

Image from Mount Hermon website

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