Merced is conveniently located in the middle of everything. Whether one seeks the beach, the mountains or the city, the destination lies little more than two hours away. Thanks to a committed group of outdoor enthusiasts, however, the adventure of extreme off-road cycling could soon be much closer.
The Exchequer Bike Park, adjacent to Lake McClure about 30 miles north of the UC Merced campus, is a national finalist for a competitive grant offered by Bell Helmets. The Bell-Built Contest will award $100,000 to the winner – as chosen through a public online vote – to support building a downhill trail for advanced-level riding. Voting for the final round opened last week and ends Thursday at www.bellhelmets.com/bellbuilt.html.
For avid cyclists like UC Merced staff member Arvin Tumonong and faculty member Justin Hicks, such a trail would be a dream come true.
“I can testify to the fact that we have long been lacking great local mountain biking,” said Hicks, who has taught economics here for a year. “This would create an awesome space for students, faculty and staff to get out and enjoy nature on their bikes.”
Tumonong, who works in the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, has enjoyed the 700-acre park so much that he became a volunteer four months ago. Owned and operated by the Merced Irrigation District, the bike-only park is under development; its trails are forged by volunteers like Tumonong. Upon build-out, the park will be able to accommodate riders of all levels and abilities.
“If I want a challenging downhill ride right now, I have to drive at least two hours,” Tumonong said. “This changes everything.”
The grant isn’t just a check for $100,000, said Exchequer Bike Club President Grant Parker. Bell also is providing an expert team to design and build the trail.
“Right now, we have 16 miles of trail all dug out by volunteers,” he said. “Having professionals work on this world-class trail means we can focus our energy on other endeavors, like creating a purpose-built adapted trail for disabled riders.”
Exchequer won the Western Region portion of the contest with more than 12,600 votes. Parker, UC Merced alumnus Peter Howell and community resident Jason Liske teamed up to spread word of the contest and the need for votes through social media. MID’s booth at the campus’ Earth Day celebration in April attracted many students to the campaign.
“It was a team effort,” Parker said. “The university community definitely helped us get more votes. Students, faculty and staff voted, and they recruited their friends and colleagues from other campuses to do the same. We noticed a big spike in votes near the end.”
Parker feels confident that Exchequer could eventually host large-scale cycling events, and local organizations like the UC Merced Cycling Club and high school teams could sponsor races there. But first, the grant has to be won.
“The voting period is nine days; a lot can happen,” he said. “We need every vote we can get.”
Voting requires making your selection on the website and entering your contact information, then confirming the vote by following an emailed link. Only one vote is allowed per email address.
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