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Tuesday, Jul 22 2014 10:56 AM

Mountain bike park idea moves to next stage

The Tehachapi City Council approved a number of items at its July 7 meeting, including the go-ahead for the city staff to seek out potential partners for a down-hill gravity mountain bike path.

Assistant City Manager Chris Kirk presented an update at the council, detailing the progress thus far. According to Kirk, consultants from Gravity Logic had come down to take a tour of the area as part of assessing whether Tehachapi could benefit from a gravity mountain bike path.

The idea was proposed last year by city staff as another way to expand the local quality of life. The concept revolves around a series of bicycle paths that would allow potential visitors to use a lift to access high points of the trail and then blast down a trail on a bicycle.

Kirk said it would be the only mountain park open year-round in the United States, and the second to be exclusively used for mountain biking.

The council has authorized $25,000 set aside in this fiscal year's budget for the next stage in the project, or directing staff to look at potential partnerships in order to develop and find funding for the project.

Kirk said that one of the greatest overlooked things is Tehachapi's mountains.

“Out of everyone involved in a survey listed the mountains as our biggest asset, even though we are a mountain town,” Kirk said. “We don't have the type of mountain town you are accustomed to.”

Such towns might include large acreages of forestland, hiking trails, cabins and the like.

To solve the disconnect, brainstorming sessions began, and the mountain bike park stood out.

“Mountain biking is healthy activity, generates tourism and revenue and could be a great opportunity for us,” Kirk said.

Kirk acknowledged that the project will need partnerships and revenue to be successful, especially given the price tag.

Estimated development costs over three years would fall just shy of $8 million, with the lion's share spent in the first year. The single most expensive item would be the chair lift, which has an estimated price tag of $6.5 million.

“We admit it's an ‘out there’ idea, but it is one that is both realistic and logistic if we can find the right partners,” Kirk said.

Partnerships would be key to the whole thing, Kirk said, and might include local agencies like Tehachapi Valley Recreation  and Parks District and look for additional funding opportunities.

Kirk also noted that staff is looking through certain grants from the California Department of Parks and Recreation to purchase property for conservancy and trail development. He remained vague on the details, commenting that staff has not actually applied for any grant programs as of yet.

Certain enthusiasm, potential revenue generator

He said the Gravity Logic consultants felt really enthused following their visit last year and that Tehachapi was ripe for the development of a facility.

“We have the potential to be a world-class facility in both terms of both vertical drop — which matters in how long you can ride your mountain bike — and also in terms of terrain and weather,” Kirk said.

He added a lot of factors play into the advantage of having a park: the right elevation, weather and access to 18 million potential visitors within a two-hour driving radius.

Kirk said that city staff has been working to identify potential sites, one of which includes a portion of land owned by Lehigh Southwest Cement.

“We studied that sire primarily but we did look at a few other sites in the Tehachapi area that are outside the city limits,” Kirk said.

He added that revenue generated by the park could far outstrip the cost of the facility. He said one study has shown that mountain bicyclists visit a mountain bike park on average three days and spend $100 per day per person.

“In terms of visitors, Gravity Logic is fairly confident that within five years, we could have upwards of 100,000 riders at a park like this,” he said. That could amount to $10 million in revenue for the local economy outside the park.

Mayor Phil Smith asked if the mountain bike path would include hiking trails.

Kirk responded that internal discussions could include finding the right property and hammer out the right deal to open the park up to the public so they can hike and bike. Another idea would include leasing out space to zip-line companies for other opportunities.

“We think there are other opportunities … for families to come and enjoy that aren't just mountain biking,” Kirk said.

Before calling for a motion, Smith noted the economic benefits such a mountain bike park could generate, as well as potential investments for the city's businesses.
“If we have a partner like Lehigh that is willing to share in this then you are 10 steps ahead on the process,” Smith said.

The council approved staff to go ahead with its goal to find suitable partners and continue development efforts up to $25,000.

Following the meeting, Kirk said that the park's development would be two or three year process with the right partners and funding. He added that it would require a California Environmental Quality Act process, which would take anywhere from nine to 18 months to complete, but could be done concurrently with some development implementations.

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