When you think of mountain bikers hitting the trail, you probably picture Colorado or Oregon — someplace with actual mountains.
Soon, you may add the flatlands of Orlando to that list.
Pushed along by a wave of community support, Orlando is close to starting work on a mountain-bike park with off-road trails through thick woods and a track of man-made rolling hills. The park would go in the middle of Orlando's concrete jungle, on 17.6 acres of mostly wooded land not far from downtown and Fashion Square Mall
"To have this kind of acreage that's never been developed, in the heart of the city, is pretty amazing," said Malisa McCreedy, planning manager for the city's parks department.
Because Orlando faces a $55-million deficit and has no money available for new parks, the park will be built with private money and sweat equity. The Winter Park
Health Foundation, a charity that promotes healthy living, approved a $50,000 grant in April.
"We like that it would be a place that makes it easier for people to be healthy," said Lisa Portelli, the charity's program director. "It's at the center of the city, so it's accessible to many different parts of the community."
Mountain bikers themselves will blaze the trails. Local members of the Ocala Mountain Bike Association — the organization that maintains greenway trails on state land near Ocala — are forming a chapter that will maintain the Orlando park once it's built.
"With only $50,000, we're still able to do a lot," McCreedy said. "We're not constructing anything — you're talking moving dirt and volunteer labor."
The park will be built on undeveloped land that was part of the defunct Orlando Naval Training Center. Most of the Navy base was given to the city and sold to the developers of Baldwin Park in 1999.
This property, known as Area C, is the last remaining piece. The U.S. Department of the Interior
gave the land to the city with the stipulation that it be used for a park.
City officials had resisted accepting the land at the same time it took the rest of the Navy base because contamination from an old dry-cleaning facility had left the ground polluted with potentially hazardous tetrachloroethene that was seeping into Lake Druid.
The Navy spent millions to clean the site, and McCreedy said Friday that when it was finally conveyed to the city last year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Navy had certified the property clean enough that its use would pose no danger to health or the environment.
The push for a park catering to off-road mountain bikers began not long after, when the city's recreation planners solicited ideas. Wadeview Park resident Mario Maenza suggested a small park where he and other avid mountain bikers could leave the pavement and pedal over dirt, rocks and tree roots.
Mostly through word of mouth, the idea rippled through the community of biking enthusiasts in Central Florida and quickly gained steam. A Facebook
group has grown to more than 700 members.
"I knew there would be support, but I had no idea there would be this much support," said Maenza, 39.
Orlando and surrounding cities continue to build a network of paved bike trails. But there are few options when it comes to off-road riding. There are some trails in the Oviedo
area at Little Big Econ State Forest and off Snowhill Road, and Mount Dora
plans to build mountain-bike trails at a new nature park off U.S. Highway 441.
But dedicated riders now have to drive an hour to Ocala
to access a 60-mile network of trails on state land known as the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway.
"You can only ride on a paved trail for so long before it gets boring," Maenza said.
The first phase, which could start as early as November, includes two winding, single-track trails just wide enough for one bike. One would be for beginners, the other for more-advanced riders. There would also be a so-called "pump track," a dirt area about 50 feet by 50 feet with small, closely spaced hills.
Supporters are trying to raise additional money from the bicycle industry, charities and foundations that would allow other features. That includes a "skills area" where riders could practice over natural obstacles such as logs and bridges.
There's also talk of someday using a cluster of four abandoned warehouses, left behind by the Navy, for indoor-riding tracks, but there's no money for that now.
The city has long planned to extend the popular Cady Way Trail, a paved route that runs between Orlando and Goldenrod. Transportation funding may come through within a year, allowing the urban trail to be extended to the mountain-bike park.
"We're providing different types of recreational activities than we have in any of our other parks," Mayor Buddy Dyer
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