From heartbreak to hope – locally built BMX track bulldozed but may rise again

James Karr, main spokesperson for the BMX park riders, at far right. Photo from Visalia Stringer

A secluded piece of land between Mill Creek and Evans Ditch in Visalia was considered a little slice of heaven for a group of bicycle motocross (BMX) enthusiasts. Over the last ten years local bikers created trails, built a series of carefully engineered jumps, and formed an inter-generational community of friends.

They called it Little Forest Trails.

On March 25, the City of Visalia’s Code Enforcement department bulldozed the jumps and closed the track.

Leslie Caviglia, Visalia’s City Manager, told the Voice that a local group running a bike park on a piece of city land presented a liability.

Once the city found out it was there, she said they had no other options but to level the jumps. The parcel was protected riparian land with mature oak trees, she added.

A standing room only crowd of bikers and supporters showed up at the city council’s April 1 meeting to voice their disappointment. Thirteen speakers, including Olympian BMX racer Brooke Crain, shared their love of BMX and their desire for Visalia to replace the locally made park with a public dedicated bike park.

Speakers covered a wide range of issues of how the bike park benefitted the community, such as being a remedy for mental health issues, attention disorders, the effects of the COVID shutdown, and an alternative to the onslaught of social media and screen time on youth.

Chase Steele, one of the speakers, said he understood the reasons behind the city taking down the jumps but that it “broke my heart a little bit. I felt bad.”

Olympian Brooke Crain speaks to the Visalia City Council. Catherine Doe/Valley Voice

He said he has two young boys who ride — and that bike parks bring kids together from all backgrounds.

“From my heart to yours, I think everyone would appreciate the opportunity to come together again,” he said.

“BMX is a sport for everyone, from toddles on striders to grandparents on mountain bikes. We need a place to call home,” Crain told the council.

“Not everyone fits into the soccer/baseball traditional sports,” she said. “Where in town is there a place for BMX riders to call home? Where do we call home?”

James Karr, one of the main builders and advocates behind Little Forest Trails, had come to terms with the fact that there would never be a bike park on that parcel again.

“That is a no-go because of the oak trees. Falling branches are a hazard and a kid would not survive it if they got hit,” he said.

Caviglia told the Voice that a permanent bike park could be possible.

“I think so. It certainly is a popular recreation,” she said.

“A sad day”

“Hey, the city is about to plow the track,” a friend of Kerr’s told him in an urgent call.

Kerr ran over to the track and saw code enforcement officers telling riders that they need to leave the property. Kerr tried to talk with them, but their response was that if everyone did not leave they would have to call the police.

Hoping to be able to talk things out, the group of riders told code enforcement they weren’t leaving. Kerr said he talked to the police but they reiterated that everyone needed to leave the property so that code enforcement could do their work.

When the group still refused to leave the police called back-up and told the bikers they were going to get arrested.

Complicating matters was the fact that several of the adults had brought their kids, and if the adults got arrested Child Protection Services would have had to be called to take temporary custody of the children.

“13 marked police vehicles showed up and we decided it wasn’t worth getting arrested,” said Kerr.

“But we didn’t leave. We stayed and watched the jumps be bulldozed.”

Kerr said it took a lot of work to build the jumps. In the process he said the adults taught the kids how to build the jumps and maintain the track.

“It taught the kids responsibility,” Ker said. “We had a sign, ‘no help – no riding.’”

Karr said the group brought their own trash cans, water jugs to maintain the jumps and built benches. Sometimes they would bring a barbeque.

“It was a real nice family atmosphere,” he said.

Why now?

A sign posted along Mill Creek

Karr said he didn’t want to speculate on why the city decided now was the time to level the jumps.

He said that city employees were regularly out at Mill Creek Park doing maintenance, and that city workers spoke to the riders on occasion.

He says they were told it was fine “as long as you don’t get complaints and don’t touch the oak trees.”

From Mill Creek Park, the BMX track is not visible. Caviglia said that through the tall grasses — which would not have been mowed because it was a riparian area — the employees might not have seen it.

She said in an aerial view in 2021 the track was not visible, but in 2023 it was.

Karr said that 30 years ago there was another bike track with jumps about a quarter mile away that got bulldozed. He said the current track could have flown under the city’s radar because for the first eight years it only had two 11 foot jumps and two seven foot jumps.

But in the last year and a half, the bike park grew to 50 jumps of various sizes.

Going forward

Given the outpouring of interest in BMX and the city’s willingness to “look at all options,” the Little Forest Trails closure could lead to a newer and better bike park – and a boost to Visalia.

The day after leveling the jumps the city set up a webpage to get feedback from BMX riders on how to move forward. Caviglia said that 157 people had left comments.

The city then set up another website a few days later to find out the best times for the BMX riders and the city to meet.

A park would be a boon to locals and to those in the wider region, Crain told the city council.

“I was a little girl who really didn’t fit in and when I found BMX I fell in love. At 15 I turned professional and at 19 I made my first Olympic team,” she said — but she had to drive to Hanford, Lemoore, or Fresno every night to practice.

“Having something in my home town during my professional career was never an option for me,” said Crain.

Karr said that not only will a dedicated park relieve the anxiety of watching “locally built dirt jumps that take hundreds of man hours to build be plowed without warning,” but that Visalia could host amazing events that will attract visitors from neighboring areas boosting tourism and supporting local businesses if they build a high quality park.

Mike Murphy concurred during his public comment.

”It could be the only place in the valley to offer something really high level and could be a really big deal,” he said. “You could have pro-level riders coming out of Visalia.”

Karr didn’t come empty handed to the meeting and handed out some examples of dirt jump parks in California “that are currently working out great for their communities and accommodate a wide range of bicycle disciplines not just, not just BMX.”

Some of the parks included Polo Grounds Bike Park in Aptos; Elk Grove Bike Park and Pleasanton Bike Park.

“I hope the city council understands the importance of all of us standing here today trying to find a place where we fit in,” said Crain.

For information on meeting times with City of Visalia representatives, click here. To send comments to city officials, click here.


5 thoughts on “From heartbreak to hope – locally built BMX track bulldozed but may rise again

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  1. Please build more trails..the bike community are losing epic trails all over the world I’m 40 and have been riding my whole life. I have 2 kids that are heart broke..first indoor parks now this, come one this is familys having the times of the lives all together and it being torn away like everything else in this’s beyond sad.

  2. Think about a Decade of labor lost.
    Membership paid in sweat equity so the many could beling and enjoy…
    We the people are the public land owners. MOVE FORWARD in Stewardship United NOW.

  3. Good morning to all,
    I live in Southern area, 4 bmx track have been removed and not relocate it. As they local authorities promised. We are not using drugs or alcohol, and that is probably what they want from us? I’ve been involved for over 40 years in BMX we were the # 1 in the world for years. Now this!! What’s wrong with the authorities!! Orange county, Whittier narrows, Simi valley antelope valley what else

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