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Rockburn mountain bike skills course opens to good reviews

Howard County residents who visit the newest attraction at Elkridge's Rockburn Branch Park are in for a bumpy ride.

Up and down, up and down — the bikers repeated that carousel-like motion Sunday, Oct. 2 as they rode over the small hills on the 4,900-square-foot pump track during the opening day of a new mountain bike skills course at Rockburn.

"It's smooth bumps and turns that teach you easy turning skills," Jonathan Posner explained.

The pump track, added Karen Druffel, is "a series of tight rolling small hills and berms, which are tight-banked turns … and you ride on this dirt track without ever pedaling."

Posner and Druffel are volunteers with the Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts, a nonprofit that helps build, maintain and enhance trail systems in public parks throughout Maryland, Washington and Virginia. MORE is raising the $60,000 it will take to complete the skills course; the nonprofit has raised nearly $40,000 to date.

"This is going to be great because there aren't a lot of tracks out here on the East Coast that are anything like this," Druffel said. "It's going to be a family-oriented skills park."

But not everyone thought the park would be a good addition to the community. When the project went before the county's Recreation and Parks Advisory Board for approval, some residents testified against it. They cited concerns about increased traffic and illegal activity. On opening day, there was no traffic congestion.

In addition to the pump track, the course, which is scheduled to be completed this spring, will include a skills park area with four trails — beginner, intermediate and advanced, all downhill, and "one fairly easy trail to climb you back up to the starting spot," Posner said.

"The trails aren't super long," he added. "From top to bottom, they're about a minute."

Once complete, the skills course will be donated to the county's Department of Recreation and Parks but maintained by MORE volunteers.

"We expect this to get a ton of use/abuse," Posner said.

Recreation and Parks Director John Byrd said the MORE volunteers providing maintenance of the track and the park is a great benefit to the county "when we are short of staff and budgets are down."

He also lauded the skills course as a great addition to Rockburn and the county park system.

"We think it's going to be a good benefit to the mountain biking community because it's going to establish a place for people to train, for young riders to train and be more safe in their sport," Byrd said.

'Safe, controlled environment'

Most mountain bikers learn skills in parking lots or by test-riding trail systems, the volunteers said, which in this area are often not suited for beginners.

"This (course) will give them the opportunity to come over here in a safe, controlled environment to work on their skills," Druffel said. "You're going over the same trees, the same rocks over and over, so you master those skills."

Druffel's 11-year-old son Ryan, who helped build the pump track, said his biking experience before the course opened included riding around his Elkridge neighborhood and mountain biking on park trails with his family.

"This is my first time riding a pump track, and I really liked it," he said at the opening event. "It's a lot of fun."

Glenelg resident Nick Griesser, 17, said he loves mountain biking, but "there's not much of this stuff around here."

After riding the pump track, he said it's a lot more fun than biking on trails.

"I think it's faster and a lot more challenging … it's a lot more upper body (work)," Griesser said.

He said he plans to visit the pump track often and hopes it will help get more of his friends into mountain biking. Griesser also is looking forward to the mountain bike trails that will be added to the skills course this spring.

"It brings a new section of mountain biking to Maryland because we don't have much downhill riding," he said.

'Better with time'

The pump track only took a week to build, but that wouldn't have been possible without the help of trail engineers from the International Mountain Biking Association, volunteers said. Hiring the engineers was one of the project's major costs.

Tammy Donahugh, a pro athlete and mountain bike instructor who works on IMBA's trail solutions program, said building the track was challenging because of all the rain last week, but volunteers worked hard to meet the deadline for the grand opening. Though this was her first build, Donahugh has ridden on pump tracks across the country.

Pump tracks are made up of rollers (small hills) and berms (tight turns), she explained, but the way you situate them determines the difficulty of the track. At the Rockburn track, Donahugh said, "they wanted a family friendly beginner/intermediate track that everyone could enjoy together."

Because the track is made of freshly molded dirt, it's still soft. Though it's ridable, Donahugh said, it will harden with time, which will make the track faster.

"These tracks really come to life when they dry out … something like this only gets better with time," Jeff Lenosky agreed.

Lenosky is a representative from Clif Bar, a company that sells organic energy bars. Clif Bar provided a $5,000 grant for the project, and, as a sponsor of IMBA, helped run the grand opening event.

"You see grown ups and kids and everybody having fun," Lenosky, who has worked on four other large pump tracks, said at the event.

He commended IMBA and the MORE volunteers for their work building the track.

"You want to have a creative shape and design of it, so it stays interesting for locals riding it everyday," Lenosky said. "They did a good job of it."

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