Proposed bike park hits speed bumps

Seventeen-year-old Nikita Ducarroz is arguably the best female freestyle BMX rider in California, maybe even the nation. She’s rumored to be the only girl doing back flips, and the Sonoma teen has even come in second while competing with the boys, which she says is her biggest accomplishment to date.

Where does a teen like Nikita go to ride? Anywhere but Sonoma.

“There is no bike park in Sonoma, so basically we have to drive out of town to be able to ride,” Nikita said, adding she is thankful her mom, Nicole Abate Ducarroz, is willing to drive her, the closest park being in Santa Rosa.

But Nicole, who is a trustee of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District board, and Nikita have joined forces with local Sonoma bike enthusiasts to change that.

Two years ago, Nicole Ducarroz, Sonoma Old School owner Robert Wilson, businessman and avid cyclist Jim Van Sickle and Sonoma Valley Cyclery owner Pat Sahs, formed a committee dedicated to seeing a bike park built at Maxwell Farms Regional Park.

The idea for the bike park came after Sonoma police told Wilson, who has taken on the responsibility of monitoring and maintaining Mcdougald Skate Park, there were issues with gangs and people abusing drugs and alcohol in and around the site.

One of the biggest issues, according to Sgt. Dave Thompson, who regularly patrols the area, is visibility. Thompson says police respond to Maxwell Park for a variety of different reasons, including “smoking and drinking and other nefarious activities.” Thompson says the existing earthen berm blocks the view of the skate park, but knocking it down may cause other issues like distracting traffic with a clear view of skaters. Still, said Thompson, “Regardless of what that dirt gets used for, it would be nice to get (the berm) knocked down to increase our visibility.”

In December 2011, the group proposed the removal of the berm, that sits just east of the skate park, with the dirt from it to be used to build a bike park situated between the existing tennis courts and skate park. In the plans, the group outlined everything from how a bike park would expand the scope of the park to include the currently prohibited BMX riders, to increasing park usage and safety.

Nikita Ducarroz and Wilson are both quick to point out that the proposed park isn’t exclusive to BMX riders. “The park is (and will be designed) for riders just starting to those who are more experienced and doing back flips,” Nikita said. The group has plans to build a common area with covered seating and solar panels to fuel a few electrical outlets for charging a phone or plugging in a laptop.

“You are only a kid for so long and (Sonoma) is now a family city,” said Wilson. “So, let’s get real about it and give the kids and families a safe place to hang out.”

Since their initial proposal, the group has been corresponding with officials from the county parks department, police department and the county. The committee has found private and corporate sponsors (like Volkswagen) to secure funding for the estimated $20,000 project; the group found a well-known bike park builder to donate his time to the project and gained a lot of support amongst local bicyclists and BMX families who are ready to volunteer in both construction and upkeep of the park.

But Sonoma County Regional Parks Director Caryl Hart says adding a bike park – or anything for that matter – to the 85-acre park isn’t so simple.

The county has to take into consideration things like conservation limits on surrounding land, the mission of the park and other proposals, of which Hart says there have been hundreds.

With this in mind, Hart said, it is the perfect time to update the master plan for the park, adding it’s been 20 years since the plan was updated.

Through a grant paid for by the county health department, the parks department is working with a planning and development class at Sonoma State to research the best ways to improve Maxwell Park as it begins updating the park’s plan.

“We love seeing people with so much enthusiasm to get something done, we just want to apply the enthusiasm in a way that will work ultimately for every park user,” Hart said.

An update of the master plan examines numerous challenges at the park, including the limited amount of parking. Hart said the revision will also consider all of the different proposals for additions to the park, and she would like to have a hearing for the community to weigh in on what it wants for Maxwell Park.

Hart expects the county to begin work revising the master plan in January. From there, she estimates it will take nine months to process a comprehensive assessment of the park.

Nicole Ducarroz and Wilson, who feel it’s the community’s responsibility to provide a safe, healthy place for local children to be active, are fearful that their teenagers will never have a chance to use the bike park. The two note the last correspondence the group received from a representative in 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin’s office was in May.

Hart says Gorin, who could not be reached for comment, has been a driving force behind the county’s efforts to improve Maxwell Park. “The fact of the matter is we could put a BMX track in tomorrow and we wouldn’t be able to keep it up because it didn’t go through the process,” Hart said.

“We are going to allow the kids in our schools, in our community, to suffer while we wait for a master plan,” Nicole Ducarroz said. “But, we want things to be good today and your kid needs this today.We don’t need to have a master plan, we are ready today.”