After years of planning and proposals, followed by disappointment when they fell through, BMX racing fans in Hall County might finally get the course they’ve long hoped for.
About $75,000 has been earmarked in the county’s proposed 2015 fiscal year budget to build a course at Laurel Park in North Hall.
“We felt like this was our best opportunity to get this off the ground,” said Mike Little, director of Hall County Parks & Leisure. “We felt like we could get this BMX course done and do it relatively cheap.”
For the uninitiated, BMX racing is an off-road bicycling sport. The sprint races are typically held on groomed dirt tracks, replete with jumps and bumps. It is different from freestyle, park and street-riding variations.
BMX racing has grown in popularity in recent years, becoming an Olympic event in 2008. And as growth surged, Hall County BMX riders began their push to build a local course. The nearest tracks are in Cobb County.
“One of the biggest challenges we face is exposure,” said Stephen Wilbanks, head of the nonprofit Lake Lanier BMX, an organization that has played a major role in convincing county officials about the benefits of building a race course.
Plans to build a course at Cool Springs Park a few years ago never materialized.
“The funding for that facility has fallen short at this point,” Little said.
But that might have been a blessing in disguise.
The Laurel Park location is a better fit, Little said, adding it is more accessible and has the necessary infrastructure, such as electricity, water and restroom facilities. There are no plans to build a skate park at this time.
Wilbanks said Cool Springs was “less than ideal,” adding Laurel Park provides a more diverse venue for the big plans his organization has for the course.
Lanier BMX plans to host regional and national competitions and tournaments, as well as conduct training sessions for new riders. Additionally, the organization will partner with Hall County to design, build and manage the course.
The organization will seek sponsors for these events, and proceeds will be split with the county, according to the terms of an as yet unsigned land use agreement.
Little said he believes the economic benefit for the county stemming from BMX competitions can be “significant.”
The money to design and construct the BMX course would come from the marina fund, which is supported by user fees generated at lake parks, as well as from Sunrise Cove and Aqualand marinas.
Little said the money can be spent only on lake parks owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, many of which, such as Laurel Park, are operated by the county.
Some grading and clearing for the course has already begun, and Little said that if approved in the budget, the course could be constructed and opened to BMX racers as early as this fall.
According to Little, the county will use excess dirt from construction of the Gateway Industrial Centre along Ga. 365, saving about $25,000 to $30,000 on construction costs.
News of plans to build a BMX course has received positive responses on The Times’ Facebook page, with local riders and parents of riders writing about how excited they are to see the project finally coming to fruition.
Wilbanks, a certified BMX coach with kids who have taken up the sport, said he is encouraged by the responses.
“We think this is a way for kids to enjoy a fun activity that also promotes a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “It’s an adrenaline-based sport. It’s all-out competition from the time the gate drops.”
But discussions about having the county take over a few Corps of Engineers parks has given Commissioner Craig Lutz pause about building the BMX course.
“I think that money can be spent better,” he said.
Lutz, who serves on the parks board, said he was under the impression the course would be built with private investment.
He said plans to build the course were not transparent, adding he had yet to see funding for it included in any budget proposals.
“You can’t find that in any documentation that we have,” he said. “That was an example that I was using for people that shows the lack of transparency that we have in our budget process this year.”