‘Bicycle playground’ opens

AMHERST – Last win­ter, Craig Fraley met Shaun Hickman on the chairlift at the Crotched Mountain ski area.

"He said that we really need a pump track in Am­herst," said Fraley, who happens to be the town’s recreation director.

As it turned out, the Amherst school district had recently taken pos­session of 22 acres off Ba­boosic Lake Road. Fraley realized it would be a good spot for a track and set about getting permis­sion to build it and plan­ning construction.

The sandy, looping bi­cycle trail system is now open to the public from dawn until dusk every day.

It takes up less than an acre of what is developing into an alternative recre­ation park, with a disc golf course to be built into the woods soon.

Hickman and Fraley were there last week with Keith Trott, the rec­reation department’s fa­cilities manager, and Ken Avery, who brought his mountain bike for a dem­onstration.

Ken Avery, who is the marketing manager for an Italian company that makes bike tires, helped with the planning and called it a "bicycle play­ground."

"It’s accessible for all skill levels and teaches balance, skill and builds confidence," he said. "There are no sheer drop-offs … it’s a great work­out." Pump tracks use dirt berms and "rollers" (smooth dirt mounds for pumping) to allow bi­cycling without the rid­er pedaling. The name comes from the pumping motion used by the cy­clist’s upper and lower body as they ride around the track without pedal­ing.

Speed depends on the rider’s ability to gain mo­mentum by "pumping" the tight terrain transitions of the track.

Pump tracks are popu­lar with mountain bikers, who use them to build skills and balance. They can also be used to teach children to ride bikes.

Hickman said he has al­ready used the track with his three young sons, and all four men emphasized that the park will be ac­cessible to all ages – "2 to 90," said Hickman – and all skill levels.

"We want 5-year-old kids," said Trott.

And Avery said his 5-year-old daughter wants to have her birthday party here.

Building the course for disc golf, sometimes called Frisbee golf, is the next step for the park, which will eventually have a new access road and parking for about 60 vehicles, Fraley said.

It’s at 11 Baboosic Lake Road, the first right turn after crossing Route 101, coming from the Amherst Village.

BMX trails of the 1970s and 1980s were the first pump tracks, and Austra­lian downhill racers be­gan creating the new era pump tracks around 2002, according to Wikipedia. The first new-era pump track in the United States was built in 2004 in Boul­der, Colo., by professional downhill bicyclist Steve Wentz.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.