Building a New Bike Park Is Never Easy

 

Marc Katz is a retired entrepreneur who lives part-time in Durango, Colorado, a town of 19,000 people who all seem to love the outdoors. You can’t have too many parks, he believes, because the demand seems inexhaustible.

The way he tells it, when he bought the 1,680 acres adjacent to town, he thought it would be a fantastic place for a rural park that included biking and hiking trails and a centralized set of soccer fields.  He quickly learned it was “naïve” to think park development would be uncomplicated or quick. 

What he started in 2014 has now become a whopper of a park that someday may prepare mountain bikers for the Olympics. Katz, though, only had experience working in the private sector, as CEO of a credit card payments company. 

The $14 million parcel he bought once hosted a coal mine and gravel pit, and it sits atop a steep mesa above the town. Planning for the new park turned into a nine-year effort that involved countless meetings with city and county officials. Then there were road trips to innovative park projects, notably those around Bentonville, Arkansas.

As one of its goals, Katz’s project includes an 80-acre “outdoor mountain bike stadium,” a BMX track and community events center, which would make Durango the king of U.S. mountain biking. 

“We anticipate the 2028 US Olympic Mountain bike team training at the park,” said Gaige Sippy, a board member of the Durango Mesa Foundation that’s carrying out Katz’s vision. 

Sippy knows cycling. He was the longtime director of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. Every Memorial Day weekend, the race pits a tourist train against several thousand bikers, who usually win.

Cycling is anchored deep in Durango, with a vigorous youth and adult program involving hundreds of participants. Still, said Moira Compton, who runs Katz’s foundation as executive director, “this is a big lift for Durango. But so was Purgatory Ski Resort and our local Chapman Ski Hill.” 

Sippy agreed. “Those same people who fought the rec center now say, ‘It’s too small.’ This is the biggest philanthropic endeavor for Durango times-ten,” Sippy said. “Sometimes I feel like a snake oil salesman, selling something that won’t be fully realized for 20 years.”

But the hard work isn’t on his plate. “That’s Moira’s job,” he said, as Compton wrangles meetings and talks to residents about what they want in the new park. 

Compton said planning includes leaving “big open space” for what the community might want in 10-20 and even 40 years. “If you told me that the Klunker bikes we made in our garages in Crested Butte would become an Olympic sport, I’d have said, ‘impossible.’”

For today’s users, Katz said, “We know we need adaptive sports trails (hand-bike trails), and we need a dozen ball fields in one place for state tournaments. We also need camping, from primitive to RV hook-ups to go with it.” 

“Don’t forget frisbee golf,” he added, and “dedicated walking trails” for the many locals who don’t bike or find interactions with mountain bikers intimidating. 

“They (bikers) just move so fast,” agreed 77-year-old Dave Stiller, an avid walker.

To get things moving, Durango Mesa Park opened last fall with a series of demonstration trails with banked corners, table-top jumps and unlike other area trails, traffic goes in only one direction and e-bikes are permitted. 

The biking community was ecstatic. Sippy said. “We just had to get something going. It was time to get shovels in the ground.”

If there’s grumbling, it’s about housing.

Durango, like many mountain towns, is housing constrained. “Three developers put (Katz’s) land under contract and then passed on developing. The infrastructure costs were over $100 million,” said Sippy.

“This, though, is a rural park,” said Compton. “We don’t have to build sidewalks or streetlights.” Sippy added that if the town moved its ballfields and BMX track to the park and the county moved its fairground, “it would open up land in the town for housing.”

But the county backed out of building their fairgrounds in the park. “It was a setback,” Compton said. “We’re leaving the option open if they want to reconsider.”

As Sippy put it, “Someone rarely hands you a huge chunk of land next to town and the money to build a giant park for the community. This is a big opportunity for Durango.”

“And it’s our job not to screw it up,” said Compton.

 

Words by Dave Marston. Marston lives in Durango and is the publisher of Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West.

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