UP IN THE AIR: South Kitsap’s BMX track may be leveled by county, riders fear

Olsen was frustrated because, if the Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee has there way, all his work would be for naught.

Kyle Olsen worked hard to craft a large pile of dirt at South Kitsap Regional Park’s BMX course from a shapeless mound into a jump.

He filled in gaps. He patted the dirt. He shaped the jump’s lip.

After awhile, 16-year-old Olsen took a break and leaned against his shovel, frustrated. Not because the dirt he was molding into the perfect eight-foot long “tabletop” was heavy and hard to move. Olsen was frustrated because, if the Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee has there way, all his work would be for naught.

“I’ve been coming here every day for the past three years,” he said. “If they tear it down, I guess we’ll just have to build it back up again.”

Olsen, a sophomore at South Kitsap High School, is one of the area teens that ride the course located near the park’s Lund Avenue entrance.

The course of jumps, turns and berms is a big draw for young extreme sports enthusiasts all across the county, said Troy Langley, the owner of Casey’s Batting Cages, which operates about 100 yards to the right of the track’s entrance.

But the course could soon be flattened.

In mid-February, the 12-member Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the county commissioners, voted to bulldoze the BMX course, said Kitsap County Parks Director Jim Dunwiddie.

Though the decision isn’t final, Dunwiddie said if community members don’t offer ways to help fix the course’s problems, leveling the myriad mounds may not be too far off.

“The park board voted last month to take it all out,” he said. “That might be a final decision, but it’s not something that would be immediate.”

What’s wrong?

What exactly is wrong with the course is up for debate. The Parks Advisory Committee was upset because the course had “overextended its footprint” and that jumps had surpassed the four-foot height restriction put in place when the course was built in 2009.

“It’s seems like it’s getting larger and larger,” Dunwiddie said. “There are rogue jumps that need to be examined.”

Others disagree. Olsen said he was told by a parks employee that the course was slated for leveling because users did not pick up their trash. A large water heater the BMXers used as an obstacle was given as one egregious example of excess trash.

“We’ve been jumping over the water tank forever,” he said. “They told us to take it out, so we took it out.”

Langley offered his own explanation as to why the county seemed committed to tearing out the jumps. Because the park attracts a bevy of teenage boys, it also, occasionally, attracts trouble.

“I think they (the county) are coming at it from there is some vandalism and damage to the park,” he said. “That may not even be the BMX kids at all.”

Fred Karakas, the owner of Olympic Bike and Skate on Bay Street, said that kids have jumped bikes in the South Kitsap Regional Park area since the late 1960s. The land, previously owned by the state Department of Natural Resources, was a haven for outdoor sports enthusiasts, he said.  Bikers turned an access road on the land in to one of the first “jump tracks” in the area.

“Kids have been jumping there for 45 years,” Karakas said. “It’s kind of tradition back there. It started as sort of a fringe thing and turned into a kind of subculture for South Kitsap. People came from all over.”

The course next to Casey’s Batting Range was redone in 2009, after the South Kitsap BMX Association closed its track, located at the other end of the park, because of financial problems. The kids who use the track police themselves, Karakas said, making sure novice riders use the lower jumps. He also said the County Park’s Advisory Committees recommendations on not having jumps taller than four feet is arbitrary. BMX jumps can be made as tall as riders can handle them, he said.

“The county just makes it up as they go along,” he said.

A redevelopment plan for the park released in 2010 had a revamped dirt rack scheduled to sit next to a world-class South Kitsap Skatepark by 2011. But since groundbreaking on a skatepark has long been promised and never delivered, Olsen fears a revamped track will never come. “This is the only track in Port Orchard,” he said. “There’s one in Shelton and a private one here, but that’s it.”

Olsen said he has sent 10-12 emails to county commisioners regarding the tracks. Parents and his friends have also called and left messages for the commissioners, he said, but they’ve never received a response.

Commissioner Charlotte Garrido said in an email to the Port Orchard Independent that the advisory board had voted to have the “hazards” removed, but that time would be allowed until more solutions could be found.

She has received as many as six emails, she said, and hopes that community members who were interested in taking responsibility for the safe construction of jumps would step forward. She does have concern about the course.

“Some issues that cause concern are that large hazardous objects are used to build up the jumps and the jump distances and heights are problematic,” she wrote in an email. “The roadway is being undermined, the health of some trees is compromised, and there is no longer an adult serving as a liaison.

“Some re-construction and/or demolition will be needed to make sure the track is safe for those who use it.”

Garrido said she would ask the six who emailed her about keeping the bike jumps.

Dunwiddie said looking for more than people saying that the jump course is nice and that kids utilize it. With the park department’s limited resources, he’s hoping for someone from the track to step forward with a comprehensive plan on how to fix the jumps and reign in the rogue park.

“There are a lot of people saying it’s a nice facility and kids use it,” he said. “No one has offered to work with us. We need people to submit a plan and agree to a footprint. We are making sure there are certain standards for BMX.”

Though the county’s Parks Advisory Board has voted to remove the track, Dunwiddie said he is trying to find a way to keep it.

“We’re the parks department,” he said. “We don’t want to tear parks down, we want to build them up. There won’t be any bulldozer’s on Monday.”

Still, a sweaty, dirty Olsen didn’t find much comfort this week in the Park Director’s promises. Everything he’s heard points to the jumps being torn down, he said. And until that day comes, along with sending emails, all he can do is dig out the jumps and occasionally fly over them, four-feet high or not.

“It’s frustrates me because there’s nothing we can do to stop them,” he said.