A debris-littered patch of decaying asphalt in McLaren Park is on the verge of becoming a bicycle-skills course after years of advocacy from local groups.
SF Urban Riders and Help McLaren Park — two organizations intent on transforming the sprawling, crime-riddled open space near Visitacion Valley — have long urged city officials to add a BMX-style bike course to the park, which once served as a haven for off-road cyclists.
In January, the Recreation and Park Department awarded a $249,835 grant to SF Urban Riders for the first phase of construction. In turn, Rec and Park has requested a matching grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to begin the initial construction phase.
Chuck Farrugia of Help McLaren Park said he’s been pushing for a bike course since the 1970s, when an older track became dilapidated and fell into disuse. In 2008, SF Urban Riders proposed a skills course for the area adjacent to the Sunnydale housing project, but funding for the plan never materialized.
With the grant from Rec and Park — part of its 2008 bond measure — construction on the first phase of that bike course can begin in the fall, said the department’s Jake Gilchrist. Work on the initial phase will probably take four to five months, Gilchrist said.
The current patch of land is used for asphalt disposal, and illegal trash dumping also happens there. But there’s potential for a solid skills course since the site has a natural slope that allows cyclists to tackle it from the top down, said Dustin Smith of SF Urban Riders.
The bike course aims to cater to a wide audience, with trails for cyclists just off their training wheels and challenging tabletop jumps, berms and mounds for more experienced BMX bikers, Smith said. There also will be a downhill course and ladder-type bridges where cyclists can refine their skills.
Once completed, it will be the only attraction of its kind in San Francisco.
“The Bay Area is the birthplace of mountain biking,” Smith said. “This is long overdue.”
Later this month, Rec and Park will ask its commission to sign off on the grant request. If the $249,835 grant is accepted, the funds would pay for new picnic seating, native species vegetation trails and other landscape improvements. The department will continue to seek funding to phase in the bike park, which should feature about $1.5 million to $2 million in upgrades when it’s finished, said Rec and Park spokeswoman Sarah Ballard.
Farrugia, who has lived near McLaren Park his entire life, said the bike course is a key component to revitalizing the neighborhood jewel.
“McLaren Park is an absolutely gorgeous place when it’s maintained properly,” Farrugia said. “Any improvements to the park are going to have a huge positive impact on the community.”