Tucson approves new 100-acre bike park on east side

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Tucson City Council has given its stamp of approval for a new 100-acre bike park to be built at Golf Links Road and Alvernon Way.

When completed, Wood Bike Park will consist of seven miles of trails and a variety of skills challenges for the novice as well as the most skilled cyclists.

The park will be built by the Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists, a Tucson nonprofit which is dedicated to maintaining the desert environment as well as building trails for mountain bikers.

The property is a chunk of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base property that was cut off when Golf Links was built 20 years ago.

"We're here on a piece of land that has been abused and neglected for decades," SDMB Executive Director Evan Pilling said.

The property can't be built on or developed because of restrictions of the Air Force base "so it's a perfect spot to put a bike park."

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The park will be built in three phases over a five-year period, depending on how much money is raised and how much volunteer help can be mustered.

The final cost could by as much as $2.5 million if all the parking, ramadas, restrooms and other amenities are built but the organization does not have the cash for that and it will be done as the funds are raised.

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The first phase, building trails and clearing the property, will cost about $250,000 but Pilling believes "we have a dedicated group of volunteers so we can do it for much less than that."

The city of Tucson will not pay for the park but will lease the property to the bicyclists for $1 a year.

Mountain biking "is one of the fastest growing sports in the country," Pilling said.

Ben Chandler, owner of Ben's Bikes, 7431 South Houghton, is one of the reasons why it has gained a foothold in Tucson.

A professional bike racer who came to Tucson in 1994, he's raised interest at local high schools.

"For Tucson, we have eight different teams," he said. "I'm the coach for three of them."

Some of the biggest groups in Tucson include the Vail Composite, the Oro Valley High School Mountain Bike Club and El Grupo Composite, and the Empire High School Mountain Bike Club.

"We train together," Chandler said. "But when it comes time for competition, they have their individual teams, they represent their schools."

Programs have also begun in some middle schools "to teach them how to ride a bike" along with the rules, procedures and techniques.

That's because, unlike some organized high school sports, bike riding is a lifetime endeavor.

"Cycling is something you can do for the rest of your life," he said, "It's kind of hard to play football for the rest of your life."

That rings true with Victoria Infante, a sophomore at Cienega High School and a recent member of the mountain biking team.

"I'm working on my balancing, like trying to learn how to go faster and keep up with the team," she said.

She's just beginning, learning to ride "over rocks and sand." She is also one of about 20 girls in the club which is also expanding.

"I don't think I'll be winning first place any time soon but there's always hope for that," she said. "But so far its fun, really."

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