Bicycle Race approved for Warner Park Nov. 7

UPDATE – News and Commentary

A “steeple chase” race for bicycles on Nov. 7 in Warner Park has been approved. But several people, including members of the Board of Parks Commission that approved the race, voiced skepticism that the race could be run without damaging the park. Dane County officials later reported that they have had good luck with the races.

The race involves 200-400 riders making several rounds of a circuitous route, mostly on grass and existing trails. Details of the proposal, and the route are below (click an image to enlarge).

On Thursday, July 15, Darren Marsh, director of Dane County Parks, emailed this note:

“Dane County Parks has worked with the Cyclo-Cross groups for many years in CamRock and Badger Prairie Parks for many of their events.  The group has been very good to work with.  They have repaired any turf damage that may occur associated with their events (no lasting damage).  They have also helped us maintain trails by mulching and signing prior to their events.  We have not seen any lasting environmental degradation due to their activities.”

Wayne Pauly, Dane County’s park naturalist, also telephoned to say that the race has worn grass to the dirt in wet conditions but the damage was “not permanent.” The bicycle group “repaired the damage.”

We welcome that news.

During the commission hearing Wednesday July 14, a park administrator told commissioners that race organizer Luke Batchelor-Clark first proposed the race in Olin Park, but park staff rejected the idea because of its “conservancy” status and size. Staff then suggested Warner.

That troubles us. Without an official “conservancy” label, Warner becomes the target park for any activity, no matter the impact. Dolores Kester, a park neighbor responsible for the creation of Warner’s dog park, told commissioners that she objected to the race’s finish line adjacent to the dog park. That area, she recalled from dog park negotiations, was to be preserved as a prairie. In recent years, however, it has been mowed into lawn. She also objected to the lack of time and short public notice given for the bicycle race.

It was also apparent that parks staff, who recommended approval of the race, had not thoroughly studied and could not predict the impact of the race on the park. Wild Warner was consulted.  But we believe the first line of defense should be park staff, who should take a “do no harm” stance regarding activities in Warner — and all city parks.

Two days before the vote, Batchelor-Clark went on an hour-long walk with a Wild Warner representative who pointed out sensitive areas that could be impacted by compaction or erosion, including planned circles around bur oaks, and climbs through the woods.

Batchelor-Clark pledged that the cyclers will “leave the park better than they found it.” He said he would call off the race if it rained, survey the park with park staff on Monday after the race, and repair or reseed any damaged areas. That, of course, will have to be done in the spring of 2011.

We remain cautiously agreeable to the race and will hold Mr. Batchelor-Clark to his word. But we cannot imagine more than a thousand rider-circles on knobby tires without some damage to the soil.

We will be monitoring during the race, and the following spring and summer. Any erosion or long-term damage is unacceptable. Any new “path” becomes an invitation to runoff, new foot and bicycle traffic, and calls to “fix” or “improve” with pavement. Warner has enough pavement and pathways.

There is also a philosophical issue at play here: The cyclers will be racing through the park, seeing and using its features as obstacles. A good example is the 200-year-old Bur Oak at the dog park. They will circle around it. At our request Batchelor-Clark agreed to make the circle larger to reduce soil compaction, the worst thing for an ancient tree — a tree that should be venerated, not used as a rodeo barrel.

We welcome the cyclers to our park. We ask them to enjoy and respect Warner, and hold to the promise to leave it “better than they found it.”