Phil Attinger/News-Sun If Michael Scott Stone (left) and Jeremy Machia can gather support and enough people willing to become BMX members, bicycle BMX could run again at the now closed and locked Highlands County BMX Track at County Road 17A E. in Avon Park. Built in 2001 in the county's former sand pit, the track that boasted the longest downhill BMX run has gotten overgrown in the three years since it closed.
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published: Sunday, September 22, 2013
Enthusiasts hope to reopen local BMX track
By PHIL ATTINGER
AVON PARK -- Two local enthusiasts hope they can find enough people who want to have BMX bicycle racing to reopen the local track.
Jeremy Machia, who helped build the track, and Michael Scott Stone, recent candidate for county commissioner, believe they can gather enough interested participants and supporters to support BMX racing using user fees to pay for maintenance and insurance for the facility that is sitting abandoned in an old clay pit north of Avon Park.
The track at 730 County Road 17A East has been closed since the Highlands County Family YMCA declined to renew its lease agreement in 2010, said Gloria Rybinski, public information officer for the Board of County Commissioners.
"In it's heyday, it did really good," said Vicki Pontius, Highlands County Parks and Natural Resources director. "We would love to see it open up again. All the jumps are there, but the (concessions) building has been heavily vandalized."
The track is overgrown and padlocked.
Standing out by the entrance on a steamy mid-day, Machia said he couldn't count the hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of hours he volunteered to do work on the track.
"It's just going to waste," Machia said. "It's hard to keep a facility like this running without any funds coming in."
The shame, he said, is that the sport was an outlet for troubled youth in the community.
Machia said that several riders he coached and mentored during those years pulled themselves out of difficult family and economic situations and became responsible adults.
He said some of those kids still come to his house for advice or just to visit.
Stone is suggesting that a reopened track could function on more of a business model, sustaining itself on fees and not on donations.
It would also keep funds in Highlands County, Stone said.
Machia said parents could drive their children to BMX tracks in St. Cloud and Punta Gorda, but that's $100 in gasoline and food and a six- to eight-hour day.
Instead, a local track could attract tourism and provide a training ground for riders hoping to compete in the Olympics, Machia said.
The site -- a 30-foot-deep clay pit the county used for road material -- had steep sides with ready-made elevation for a downhill bicycle BMX course.
The YMCA forged an agreement with the county in March 2001 to lease 12.93 acres of the property to put in the facility.
It was finished in April 2001 and was quickly a popular venue for BMX races.
Highlands County BMX, the local volunteer racing organization, hosted state competitions almost up until the year the track closed. Its first Sunshine State 5 Star Series bicycle race event was in October 2002 and its annual national events drew competitors from as far away as Argentina, Chile and England in 2002 and 2003, Machia said.
"We ran out of hotel rooms in Highlands County," Machia said.
The lease agreement was $1 per year for 20 years, and was paid in advance, but Rybinski said the YMCA was simply paid back in 2010 for the remaining years on the lease.
Dan Andrews of Legacy Cycle in Sebring said almost everything to make the track was donated. He and Dee McDonald, former YMCA executive director, were instrumental in getting the track constructed and forging the agreement with the county.
McDonald, now out of state, said it cost approximately $200,000 in direct and in-kind donations to construct the track, not counting the land donation by the county. Highlands County BMX then covered operational expenses by hosting at least two large competitions each year, she said.
"The challenge is (having) volunteers to maintain the track," McDonald said.
Andrews said he has heard of a handful of people who are interested in reopening the track and reviving BMX racing, but they will need a well-funded organization -- such as the YMCA -- to provide money for liability insurance and people to maintain and repair the track, as needed.
"It started as a labor of love and then became a burdensome chore," Andrews said.
After McDonald left, the YMCA lost interest, he added.
He said interest in BMX waned thanks to the track's location north of Avon Park, which he called an inconvenient drive for participants from Sebring and Lake Placid.
Machia said it had more to do with gasoline prices in general. After prices spiked in 2008 and 2009, then the economy collapsed, people had a harder time coming from out of county or out of state.
Andrews doesn't suspect the economy played that big of a role, especially since membership fees were low.
"It's not like it was an expensive sport," Andrews said.
Machia is asking anyone interested in helping reopen the track as a volunteer or paying member to contact him at 863-414-2752.
probably the best response here (by: Nelson Socarras - 10/10/2013)
Firstly let me just say this is Avon Park, its a dead town with nothing but gas stations and hardly any job openings. Are younger youth in this town have nothing to do really accept go to church twice a week to see friends and have some fun. Most teens here tend to get in trouble because of wrong choices but the cause of it is boredom.
Hoping you can make it happen ! (by: Laura P - 9/28/2013)
I have been with the Sunshine State BMX Assoc for 27year. We always enjoyed coming to the track and the area and we so disappointed when it closed. The Sunshine State BMX Assn is still here, so keep us posted ! So hoping you can do this ! (west palm beach)
The good days (by: Jeffrey Weeks Jr. - 9/24/2013)
I remember I couldn't wait to get out of school an head to the track and just ride. Some good memories and good people out there. I couldn't tell how much money and time was spent there, and I don't regret a dime or a minute of it. It's a shame it closed. I will definitely get a bike and get out there if it re opened. This would be an awesome thing for highlands county, we need it!
BMX (by: MJ - 9/24/2013)
To think of a bmx track closing down is easily comparable to a broken heart. Avon park was one of my favorite destination tracks to ride, the people were great, the track gave thrills - with it being downhill - that no other track could offer and it was one of the best social gathering places for the young and old. Bmx to me was my escape goat for getting into out of all the trouble that all my neoghborhood friends were getting in. It also has helped me learn what the true meaning of competition was and what it means to work hard to earn your keep. With BMX being an individual sport everyone is a competitor on the gate but if you have ever been around that scene, you would be surprised to see EVERYONE is a huge family. Ive met my best friends for life thru bmx and some of then arent even in the same country I live in. No other sport has taught me so much then BMX...and still 18yrs later bmx is STILL A HUGE ASSET in my life. I truly hope that this track does not close forever.
One of the best tracks (by: Ashly bright - 9/24/2013)
I believe that this track was one of the best in the state. I would travel from Punta Gorda every weekend since it opened just to ride it. I know the track attracted a lot of kids, which helped them stay out of trouble. I know I will volunteer and be back out there with my dad if the track is opened up.
BMX Track (by: Brett - 9/24/2013)
This is a great sport that can change the lives of kids for the better. I've seen troubled kids that were certainly headed for jail become contributing members of society after finding a reason like BMX to stay out of trouble, and also they are surrounded by positive role models at the track. I live an hour away, but would certainly come use the track and pay in my money for concessions and entry fees.
Positive effects (by: Britney White - 9/24/2013)
The reopening of the track would have such a positive effect on Highlands County. Over the past years the BMX racing industry has grown exponentially, and is even an Olympic sport now. During its time, the Highlands County BMX race track was nationally renowned for being one of the best tracks around. It drew attention from all over the world. If the track reopened it would draw in new revenue from a different market. There is renewed interest in the sport worldwide, and this is a great opportunity to create the spark needed to jump start the local economy back.
RC Track (by: Kent Steele - 9/23/2013)
Whatever happened to the RC track that was built out there. Can that be reopened as well?
This is great... (by: D.J. Steward - 9/23/2013)
I love this idea... what a great place for kids to burn off a little extra energy, get themselves out of the house and away from the electronic devices.
Good thing (by: TJ - 9/23/2013)
I feel that this track was a good thing for the youth. My son loved going.
Why I left (by: Rick - 9/23/2013)
The town is a great place to live, but the reality is...the people who have the power to change things in Highlands county and can make things more in tune with "reality" want the county to stay the same...because they are enjoying a comfortable life..but for the 97% who struggles and needs the change..they either deal with being a peasant or they move somewhere else..MANY MANY MANY people have left. Statistics don't lie...the county has many families hurting!
Open today (by: Sherri Edwards - 9/23/2013)
Stuck in Sebring obviously doesn't want to see the county grow or understand the dedication of a BMX rider! I know Jeremy and I will be there 100%. I speak to riders every week that love this track and would love to see it open. All I can say is YEA!
Rock oN (by: Blindman~ - 9/22/2013)
There is all kinds of stuff going on around here all the time. The kids are going to love this. Good luck, guys.
BMX Rocks (by: B. Whites Mom - 9/22/2013)
I am a past volunteer at said track. My daughter who is now 23 years old and a Fl. State Alumni started riding at thirteen, and currently has a paying job riding her BMX bike. I will never forget the look in her eyes the day I took her there to see a friend ride, as soon as she saw the track she said " I want to do this" So, to sum it all up, this article makes me very happy indeed. Our youth need it. Why can't the county fund it like any other town. The out of town races we traveled to every weekend were maintained by county workers. I hope Jeremy and his friend can make this happen.
we need it (by: unknown - 9/22/2013)
See that is the additude that pople need to loose. There are more young people here in Highlands County then you realize. This is what we need for our town, to start to show that we are not just an elderly town but one to bring people to see and come to and make something of Highlands County. Way to go boys. I am all for it.
Forget it (by: Stuck in Sebring - 9/22/2013)
Let it go. . this county is in an economic depressed state. No one has money or interest for this. Not enough young people interested. Not enough work for expendable cash. All that's popular here is early bird specials and whatever ppl can get for free.
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