This feature is part of the CN&R’s 2023 Bike Issue.
Where other people may see nothing but a muddy tract of land past the Chico Regional Airport, Phil Wysocki and Jim Clancy—the track operator and board president of Silver Dollar BMX, respectively—envision a world-class bike racing facility and essential community gathering place.
“This will be the parking lot,” Wysocki said on the stormy afternoon of March 19, sludging through the wet muck around a puddle the size of a small swimming pool. He pointed across the field to a few industrial-sized mounds of dirt, and continued, “Our building will be over there, and the track over here.”
Wysocki led the way through more mud and puddles to the edge of a giant pit, where the track itself will be located.
“We’ve gotta wait for this to dry out, then we hope to start grading this spring.” he said, outlining the plan to properly transform the area—installing underground utilities, building infrastructure, track shaping—before offering his most optimistic estimate regarding when riders can hit the track.
“Were hoping for summer. That’s a pie-in-the-sky kinda hope, because it’s all dependent on timing and there’s obviously a lot of steps from grading to being able to ride.”
Forced to move
Silver Dollar BMX is a nonprofit founded in 2000, and for most of its existence the organization’s home has been a plot of city-owned land in south Chico, adjacent to the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds and accessed from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. The organization had a 30-year, no-cost lease with the city to operate there.
The property where the track was located was bandied about as a possible shelter site for several years as Chico—and every other California city—grappled with the still-present and growing issue of homelessness. Prompted by the Warren v. City of Chico lawsuit, the city reclaimed the site to house the Chico Emergency Non-Congregate Housing Site, aka the Pallet Shelter. Wysocki said the city approached them in Sept. 2021, and the track closed in November of that year.
“We understand that was an emergency situation and needed to be done,” said Wysocki. “We had the options of throwing our hands in the air, complaining, giving up, or getting to work on rebuilding. So we’ve been working on this ever since.”
To mitigate the eviction from the BMX track, the city committed $600,000 to help the organization relocate and rebuild, and allowed it to take over a different city property located next to the Chico Westside Little League Park. The no cost, 30-year lease agreement remains the same as at the old site.
Still, the organization needs significantly more money for the new track and facilities to be fully realized. Construction of the track alone is estimated to cost $1.4 million. The design they’re using was developed by Mike McIntyre, a landscape architect whose company—Action Sports Design—specializes in BMX tracks, skate parks and action/adventure parks. His designs includes similar, highly lauded tracks in Houston, Texas, and Rock Hill, S.C. The latter will host the BMX World Championships in 2024.
Fundraising efforts are ongoing. Wysocki said the BMX group has partnered with a number of local contractors and other organizations to keep costs down, and hopes to do more of this. Significant contributors he mentioned, aside from the City of Chico, include the Chico Builders Association, which provided free design for a building at the track that will house Silver Dollar BMX’s office space, and the North Valley Community Foundation, which gave $5,000 from its Chico Children’s Endowment Fund.
Wysocki explained the track operates under the national organization USA BMX, which is both its governing body and its insurer. He said that organization has offered to help defray some costs and to help them get the track going as soon as possible.
He also noted that the new track could become operational before it’s 100 percent complete. “We think we can get riding [for] somewhere south of $700,000.”
Worth the effort
In its 20-plus years of operation, Silver Dollar BMX has helped thousands of riders of all ages live their bicycle-motocross-racing dreams. The BMX season is year-round, halting only for a few weeks in December, and is central to the lives of many participants. Without a track in Chico, the closest BMX racing facilities are in Sacramento and Shasta Lake City.
Silver Dollar BMX was not just affected by the forced move, but also struggled during the COVID-19 crisis. The track was closed for most of 2020, then reopened in Feb. 2021.
“Our ridership actually grew significantly coming out of COVID because we were one of the first sports that was able to reopen,” Wysocki said, explaining that BMX is held outdoors, riders wear full face helmets equivalent to face coverings, and that the organization instated social distancing rules so fans sat in the grandstands during competition, then stayed near their vehicles in the parking area between races.
The boon was short lived, as the track was closed down eight months after reopening. Wysocki and Clancy said the track’s erratic availability in recent years has hindered riders’ progress and advancement, and contributed to the fragmentation of a once-strong strong community.
In addition to being president of the organization’s board of directors, Clancy has also been racing for nine years, competing in the sport’s 56-and-over class, and spoke firsthand about the effects of the closure.
“BMX is a tight community,” Clancy said. “You have families that are traveling together and a lot of relationships are built at the track. It becomes a social network and it sucks when you don’t have it.
“It’s frustrating,” he continued. “I started riding to get into and stay in better shape, and I use it to be in a better mental place. Riding takes my mind off stuff, off all the stresses of life, and without the track it’s been a little harder.”
Help the races go on
Contact Silver Dollar BMX via Facebook to donate to the cause.