Steamboat Springs If you want to ride BMX in Routt County, you need only one tool -- a shovel. Without a maintained public course to speak of, local riders create their own with dedicated grassroots grunt work. For a few separate groups of local enthusiasts hooked on riding the smaller, specialized bikes characterized by 20-inch wheels, the sport is experiencing a rebirth in popularity.
Greg Jansen grew up riding BMX. Keith Driessen was learning the sport that combines freestyle disciplines with mountain bike riding and motocross elements. The two met at Howelsen Skate Park. Feeling limited by a jump layout designed for skateboards, the two found a small parcel of land secluded in trees near the Depot Art Center to build a course of their own design.
Jansen and Driessen started moving earth in the fall. After the spring snowmelt, Driessen said the two worked an average of three hours a day, six days a week, "one scoop at a time." Now, Driessen, Jansen and a few friends enjoy an impressive array of steep, chest-high gap jumps with tight transitions and a quarterpipe wall ride.
"You ride through the berm, get some speed, flow off the first jump, hip to the right and then air off the second to the left," Driessen said, explaining the layout. "You can kind of zig-zag or cruise around."
"We built it custom for our style," Jansen added.
Less than a quarter-mile away, as Driessen and Jansen rode contently on their customized track, another group of riders were busy last Thursday night working on a BMX course of their own. Both groups were unaware of each other's projects.
Gina Grether and Brain Deem are spearheading a local volunteer effort to resurrect the Howelsen Hill BMX park, one that fails to lure experienced riders because of its dilapidated jumps that are overgrown with weeds.
According to Howelsen Hill facilities supervisor Jeff Nelson, the park, which is on city property, must be maintained by volunteers who apply for funds through the city's Contributions Committee.
The last group that was awarded the grant built a small shed and the metal starting gate but hasn't done any noticeable improvements since.
In the midst of the grant application process, the city's Parks, Recreation and Open Space Department has allowed Grether and Deem to begin making improvements.
Grether, a mountain biker who races multiple events at the professional level and has NORBA national titles under her belt -- not to mention former U.S. Olympic team credentials -- has a vision for the park's potential.
"I want this to be a training ground and a legitimate place to ride," Grether said of her desire to transform the park into a course where sanctioned National Bicycle League BMX races can be held. "Eventually, this is going to be an eight-lane track for races, but like motocross, one that anyone can ride through or go big off the lips. It will be roped off and lit up so we can have races with lots of age categories. That's what BMX used to be -- a family thing, not a separatist one"
With five truck loads of dirt donated from Native Excavating, Grether's crew is rebuilding the course's jumps with the help of a compact loader donated from Prestige Property Detailing.
Grether said that while the work will make the jumps rideable, the next step in creating a safe and durable track will be to put down a large quantity of clay-like dirt over the course. That step may be impossible without additional funding. Until then, Grether's crew will continue their volunteer efforts of improving the jump with shovels and elbow grease. She encouraged fellow local riders to show up to the park from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays.
Grether is not the only one relying on volunteers to help build a quality BMX course. Oak Creek's Dave Fisher, an avid BMX racer who has been ranked nationally in his age category, is working with a corps of South Routt riders to complete a homegrown BMX course on a hillside near Decker Park before Labor Day.
"I'd like to have a race and establish Oak Creek with a series of race events," said Fisher, who owns the South Routt Velosport bike shop. "People are really receptive to the idea, there's a lot of kids with idle time and it's attractive to them."
After the Oak Creek Town Board approved the dirt jumping zone last fall, Fisher said he's been working with volunteer riders to clear brush and lay out the course to link it with Oak Creek's "around the town" multi-use trail.
With Fisher's estimate of 10 to 20 BMX riders in South Routt and Grether's estimate of 30 to 40 in Steamboat, the sport certainly has local potential.
As Grether worked Friday to harden the lips on the jumps, young riders were curiously exploring the improvements.
"This makes sense," Grether said. "This is an Olympic facility and BMX is an Olympic sport. ...I think Steamboat's a little behind, but you've got to make the scene happen, I guess."
To reach Dave Shively, call 846-1129 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.