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2011-03-10

Sturm und Drang surrounds city park bike park

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Parents determined to construct a BMX-mountain bike trail in Bandera City Park met a wall of resistance from city council members during a Thursday, March 3, meeting.
The problem was that "proposed" track is essentially a fait accompli. For the last couple of months, members of the "Bandera Buzzards" have been busily constructing a sizable portion of the "proposed" track.
BMX or bicycle motocross is described as "extreme racing on bicycles in motocross style on tracks with inline start and expressive obstacles."
No permission
A blindsided city council - except for Councilman John Hegemier - was aggravated to learn that, according to the agenda item, they were merely being "advised" that a portion of the park would now be designated as a mountain bike trail.
Mayor Horst Pallaske and the majority of council were understandably livid that brush had been cut and trees removed by the group - all without being authorized by the city.
To City Administrator Gene Foerster's admission, "Well, it's already been done and there's really nothing we can do about it," Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher and Councilman Binky Archer quickly responded, "Oh, yes there is." They suggested that the individuals responsible should remove the bike trails and restore the area as originally found, as well as being fined for destroying that portion of city park.
Opposition on council
"I oppose this for several reasons," Schumacher said, citing that the area in the vicinity of 1st and Pecan streets had been designated as a walking trail and that large herds of whitetail and axis deer frequent that area.
"I am furious and disappointed that we were not consulted about this project, which is not in line with the intentions of the city park," she said. Apparently, Schumacher only learned about the bike park that afternoon.
Echoing her colleague, Councilman Nancy Montgomery noted that when rains finally materialize, lack of vegetation and groundcover would turn the area into "a muddy mess." She continued, "These trails were constructed in a flood area and it could be disastrous. You destroyed city property."
Archer also noted that the area in question had long been designated as a walking area and nature preserve.
Alone in his support of the project, Hegemier applauded the youngsters for their creativity, saying, "They did something that wasn't destructive and I think it's pretty neat."
Brantley falls on sword
Speaking for the project, Clayton Smith said the Bandera Buzzards offer local youth a supervised and drug-free environment. "There's nothing for kids to enjoy in Bandera and we want to be part of a change." He hastened to add, however, that no work had been done on the BMX trail for the last two weeks.
Smith's father, the late Mike Smith, helped establish the Bandera County Boys & Girls Club.
While telling Clayton Smith he appreciated what he was doing for the children, Pallaske also noted that the action of the group did not set a good example for the children. Pallaske vehemently decried that the group had acted arbitrarily without asking permission to construct the mountain bike trail.
Right on cue, Bandera Police Sgt. Jim Brantley fell on a figurative sword, telling council he had given the group tacit permission to continue constructing the bike trail. "I was looking for the deer with the arrow and they were doing the trails," Brantley said. "They asked me if it would be all right and I told them, 'This is what [the park's] here for. It's here to use'."
According to Schumacher, three residents living in the area had opposed construction of mountain bike trails.
'Plus for community'
However, both Don Clark, a member of the Educational Development Corporation, and county resident Genie Strickland supported the venture.
"The park is for everybody in the community. A bike trail will not hurt the wildlife. I applaud them for trying to do something that's good for the kids," Strickland said. "This could be a plus for the community. We need to figure out a way to make it work." She said her grandchildren often ride mountain bikes on a quasi BMX trail cut on the Stickland's 15-acre homestead.
While intimating that it would have "chapped him" if the bike trail had been constructed on his watch, Clark, nevertheless, suggested that the city turn the present situation into a positive. "Let's go forward with the project and not make the kids suffer for what their parents did. Let's look deep into our hearts right now and go ahead and let them do it," he said.
Also expressing his support, Foerster asked council to give the mountain bike trail project their "full consideration," remarking that the council represents the entire city.
Improper project
"If this project had been properly brought before city council, I would have jumped on the bandwagon. However, it was done wrong and I have to answer to constituents," Montgomery said.
Apologizing on behalf of the Bandera Buzzards, Randi Smith said she didn't want council to think the group had said "to heck with the city." She reiterated, "I don't want this project to go south."
City resident Sherry McCullough queried as to why the mountain bike trail had not been constructed at Bandera Downs on Highway 16 South. "Because it's private property" was the answer. Another suitable space on Highway 16 North, located near the sports complex, is also owned privately. "The children should have something, but this is the wrong location," McCullough said.
Other considerations that council must explore include liability, parental supervision and sanitary conditions. Foerster said, "If a child is hurt down there, the city will be responsible."
Need mo' coverage
According to municipal attorney Barbara Boulware-Wells, the city must purchase additional insurance to cover a BMX park. Because that type of insurance sometimes proves prohibitive, many cities, including Austin, have refused to allow mountain bike parks.
Foerster said extra liability insurance purchased through the Texas Municipal League would cost $1,500 annually. "Perhaps these folks will have to contribute to the insurance," he said, referring to the parents of the bikers. To many on the council, that appeared to be a given should the bike trail be accepted.
Buddy Byrd had apparently offered to donate a port-a-potty for the area; however, council foresaw an unmanned restroom facility as creating yet another set of problems.
Parents attending the meeting indicated they would provide supervision, but as Montgomery pointed out, "Other bikers will certainly be using that trail without your permission or knowledge."
With the strum und drang concluded, Schumacher recommended that the prime movers behind the BMX trail bring a plan back to city council that addressed permission, liability, cleanup, BMX park boundaries, parental supervision and fees to be collected, if any, among other concerns.
"You must approach this in a different way," Pallaske advised the group.
According to Foerster, proponents of the BMX park met with Public Works Director Mike Cardenas shortly after the city council meeting. They agreed to work on a plan that included all concerns and present it to city council at a later date.

Pictured: In place of vegetation, this view of a newly constructed BMX-mountain bike trail in Bandera City Park shows a series of packed dirt moguls constructed to challenge mountain bikers.