BMXers rally after Visalia bike park demolition

Visalia City Council meeting on April 1, 2024.(Rigo Moran)

Dozens of BMX riders pack recent Visalia City Council meeting after city demolishes a local bike park without warning

VISALIA – Most Visalia City Council meetings are sedate affairs with just a handful of residents appearing, but at the latest meeting, dozens of local BMXers packed the meeting hall to overflowing capacity after the city demolished a local bike park last week without warning.

The demolition occurred on Friday, March 29. According to reports, a Visalia Code Enforcement showed up at the site with a bulldozer and flattened hand-made jumps the riders had constructed over the course of 10 years on a parcel of city-owned property at the corner of Mill Creek Drive and McAuliffe Road. Citing potential liability and environmental concerns, the city decided to demolish the park.

Several riders were on-site at the time and asked that the demolition be delayed, but were told that it would be done. Within hours, numerous other riders had shown up at the park, forcing code enforcement to notify Visalia Police. After threats of arrest, the riders eventually had to allow the work crew to demolish the park.

In response to the demolition, the community came out in force to address the city council during its meeting on Monday, April 1. While most speakers said they could understand the city’s decision, they made an emotional plea for a proper, safe and legitimate park.

Visalia Mayor Brian Poochigian said the city was already in the process of establishing a formal meeting with community members to discuss options. The city’s Facebook page includes a link for community members to sign up to participate in the discussion, but the decision to level the previous park had left an emotional scar on many of the BMXers in attendance.

James Karr has ridden at the park for years and said in an interview with The Sun-Gazette that recent expansion and attention may have contributed to the demolition. Karr said that over the last decade, the park featured four jumps, but in the last two or three years, it had expanded to around 50 jumps. Social media had encouraged new riders, but Karr maintained the community has always been family-friendly and responsible.

“We are really friendly, we’re really open, we want more people to come out and enjoy our sport,” Karr said. “We are building relationships and teaching our kids the value of hard work. We had a rule out there: no dig, no ride.”

Karr added that the community crafted self-imposed rules governing conduct and safety, and provided trash cans to prevent littering. The park was also a gathering place for community barbecues.

“We were trying to be as proactive as possible,” Karr added. “We lost a whole lot more than just riding our bikes. There were a lot of friendships that were built out there that never would have been if it wasn’t for the dirt jumps.”

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Derek Pope speaks at the Visalia City Council meeting on April 1, 2024. (Rigo Moran)

Olympic BMX rider and Visalia resident Brooke Crain said the park was a unique opportunity for people like herself to hone skills, something that is not available elsewhere in the local area. Crain began riding as a child and now works with USA BMX, the world’s largest BMX racing organization.

“How do we expect kids to excel at anything if there are no opportunities for them? You can’t expect a kid to make it to a professional soccer team if there are no soccer fields around. It’s the same thing with BMX,” Crain said in an interview with The Sun-Gazette.

Crain said that she was fortunate early in her career because her parents were willing to drive several hours to bike parks, but added that many kids won’t have the opportunities she had.

“What other sport can you do while riding or playing next to an Olympian, with your grandfather and your two-year-old,” Crain said. “That’s the beauty of BMX. It’s not just for professionals, there are so many different opportunities.”

Many of the riders who spoke at the city council meeting brought attention to aspects of the sport that are not always obvious. Particularly, the community that is formed. Numerous studies recently have shown that American youth are increasingly isolated and spend more time behind a computer screen than face-to-face with friends. The community says BMXing is a way many young people have of getting out of the house and meeting people who share a similar interest.

Important to note is that the community is not asking the city to fund the construction of the park, they simply want a place to build the park. Social media comments already indicate that BMXers would be more than willing to construct the park themselves without a city work crew. Even a local heating and air conditioning company, Valley Oak Heating and A/C, has pledged to provide a work crew to get the job done.

Karr and Crain both agreed that feedback from the city to arrange a solution in the future is positive.

Karr and Crain said they hope city leaders will engage with the community in the design of a park to provide a place that offers tracks for different disciplines and skill levels where the community can continue to develop young and novice riders’ skills while providing a challenging environment for advanced or professional riders.

They added that a properly constructed park is likely to draw in riders from the surrounding community and could attract major events that would add a revenue source for the city.

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