Gillies Creek Park Photo by Adam Ewing
Gillies Creek Park 4425 Williamsburg Ave., Richmond Red clay dust forms clouds around BMX bikers racing over 4-foot hills and around asphalt turns at the dirt track in Richmond's East End. "It's a good outlet for the kids," says Patrice Lane, who comes to the park twice a week with her 11-year-old son and 13-year-old niece. From 5 p.m. until dusk, more than 20 riders ranging in age from five to 65 practice sprinting on the only BMX track in Richmond. The USA BMX-affiliated course also hosts races every other weekend. "All this asphalt, that's a lot of hamburgers and hot dogs," track operator Arthur Luck says of the course that is maintained by volunteers. The retired welder has been leading volunteer efforts at the track for the past 15 years. "It's all about getting kids involved," he says. "Getting them off the street. Stuff like that."
Dutch Gap Conservation Area 341 Henricus Park Road, Chester As part of the Fit for Life curriculum, Chesterfield County eighth graders take a field trip to Dutch Gap Conservation Area to ride mountain bikes on the 4.5-mile loop that circumnavigates the park. "It's a perfect beginner area," adventure programmer Greg Velzy says of the gravel path that starts to the left of the Henricus Historical Park Visitors Center and runs around an isthmus between an old James River channel and a tidal lagoon. The 810-acre park operated as a sand and gravel mine until the county's parks and recreation department bought the land and established it as a conservation area in 1997. "All of our existing trails were old roads they used during the mining operation, but they're ideal bike trails," naturalist Mark Battista says. He recommends visiting the park in the morning when guests are more likely to spot bald eagles, blue herons and kingbirds overhead. James River Park System 300 Tredegar St., Richmond Last September, the city's Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities opened a new mountain bike skills training area on the southeastern corner of Belle Isle. The site, which is located under the Lee Bridge, features the same types of challenges that riders would encounter on the park system's 22 miles of trails within a safe and controlled environment. Rock gardens, a pump track and log features allow beginners to practice new skills before embarking on the challenging urban single tracks. "It's a pretty technical trails system," bicycle, pedestrian and trails coordinator Jakob Helmboldt says of the Buttermilk and North Bank trails that are popular with more serious mountain bikers. While the park system's several trail loops are not always contiguous, many of them link together through bridges and nearby neighborhood roads. Pocahontas State Park 10301 State Park Road, Chesterfield Plans are underway to construct 30 additional miles of mountain biking trails on the north side of the state-owned park by September 2015. "Thanks to the [UEI World Road Cycling Championships], there's the impetus to do something big to showcase the Richmond region as an outdoor recreation destination," Virginia state parks director Joe Elton says. The event is expected to draw more than 450,000 bike-enthusiasts from around the world for a race that will attract around 300 million television viewers. "There's a sense that the whole biking world is going to be looking at Richmond," Elton says. The 7,925-acre park currently has about 80 miles of trails, including the Old Mill bicycle trail, a wide, 4.8-mile loop that is designed for families to do leisurely bike riding. "There's something for everybody," Elton says.