Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Dirt Rag #178. Order a subscription to make sure you never miss an issue.
By Kristen Jones Neff, Photos by Forrest Arakawa
Construction on the much-anticipated Stafford Lake Bike Park in Novato, California, has begun—with some dramatic twists along the way, and a whole cast of characters working to move it forward.
Seventeen acres of rolling green hills are tucked behind a reservoir in a 139-acre county park in Novato, the northernmost town in Marin County. The sprawling green haven is gorgeous, yet neglected by the public as most people don’t know it exists.
Those responsible for this creation? Mountain bike legend Mark Weir, who is raising his family in his hometown of Novato, and wants to bring something good to the community. Next there’s Al Baumann, who’s been around the block in local politics, and knows that if you hang in there and don’t let up on the dream, good things will happen. Julia Violich is a master, both on bike trails and in fundraising circles. She’s a doer, a catalyst and sets the pace for action. Add two more local guys, Ryan Gibson and Sam Neff, both fathers, both bike fanatics. The former is a star rider himself, and promotes the bike park as intensely and passionately as he rides. The latter is a true believer, who started working to bring a pump track to Novato eight years ago when no one even knew what that meant.
The group ran into some serious barriers, battling on various fronts with a doubting public contingency, lack of funds and anti-mountain bike groups. They have regrouped several times and, against all odds, turned the tides, gaining momentum as they garnered the support of key county officials and secured funding from local families, Marin County businesses and big-name bike brands.
Through grit and determination, one of the most complete bike skills parks in the country has started construction with support from, among others, Bike Monkey, WTB, Santa Cruz, Mike’s Bikes, Clif Bar, Lagunitas, and a recent $100,000 check from Fox Factory. Fox has donated a few new 36 series forks to raffle off to lucky winners. The nonprofit Friends of Stafford Lake Bike Park raised $592,850—well over half of the $850,000 needed to complete construction of the park. Another fundraising event is being held on October 19 in downtown Novato to keep the energy flowing.
This full-spectrum bike park is designed to provide “progressive opportunities and experiences for riders of all ages and skill levels.” The park includes state-of-the-art singletrack loops, gravity-fed flow trails with jumps and berms, several pump tracks, North Shore-style elevated trails, dual slalom and a kid’s learn-to-ride area.
“One of the best things about this project is that it is a public-private partnership. There has been so much conflict around the use of open space in this county, it is great to finally work in partnership, to build a sense of community,” said Violich.
According to Violich, who has earned a reputation as a centerpiece of the Marin County biking community (she races, coaches high school teams and brought the Bicycle Museum and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame to Marin County), key officials helped the plan unfold, namely, Marin County supervisors Judy Arnold and Steve Kinsey, Marin County Open Space Director Linda Dahl, and Steve Petterle the county’s principal park planner.
Weir, who built a pump track in his back yard eight years ago, tried to accommodate as much of the community as possible, but eventually had to limit his track to neighborhood friends and family. Now he watches his own 5-year-old son Gus rip around the berms.
“I’ve watched the little guys in my neighborhood learn to ride together here. They grow up together, they have a great time and they learn to ride well. They learn to ride in a controlled manner. It will feel really good to repeat that at Stafford Lake,” he said.