KATARA SIMMONS/News-Sun Vicki Pontius, Parks and Natural Resources director for Highlands County, said the concessions building and office at the Highlands BMX Track is too vandalized to enter right now. The track at 730 County Road 17A E. in Avon Park hasn't been open since 2010 and will need repairs to get back to use, she said.
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published: Wednesday, October 02, 2013
BMX track needs insurance, repairs before it can open
By PHIL ATTINGER
SEBRING -- Highlands County Family YMCA may have overseen and underwritten operations at the Highlands County BMX Track north of Avon Park. Reopening it, though, would take more time, money and hands than the YMCA has right now, said Dave Scheck, program director at Highlands County Family YMCA for the last six years.
"Not that it wasn't a good program," Scheck said. However, he added that reopening the BMX track would be "quite a venture to undertake."
People liked having the program, but the YMCA doesn't have money in the budget to staff the track and the work it takes is "a lot to ask of volunteers," Scheck said.
To make it work financially, the track had to have at least two statewide races each year, Scheck said, and while it was popular when it first opened in 2001, its popularity waned.
Two local men -- Jeremy Machia, who helped build the track, and Michael Scott Stone, former county commission candidate -- believe they can get enough interested participants and supporters to support BMX racing events, insurance and maintenance with user fees.
Machia, also of Under Pressure Sports in Sebring, has had a few people give verbal support, but no financial support yet.
The track at 730 County Road 17A E. in Avon Park has been closed since the YMCA declined to renew its lease agreement in 2010, said Gloria Rybinski, public information officer for the board of county commissioners.
The original 20-year lease at $1 per year started in March 2001 for 12.93 acres of the county's clay pit, a steep-sided, 30-foot-deep hole.
A downhill bicycle course was completed in April 2001 and quickly became a popular venue for BMX races.
Dee McDonald, YMCA executive director at the time, said construction cost $200,000 in direct and in-kind donations, not counting the donation of land by the county.
Highlands County BMX, the local volunteer racing organization, hosted state competitions almost up until the year the track closed, using proceeds for maintenance, McDonald said.
The county involvement was none, said Vicki Pontius, Highlands County Parks and Natural Resources director.
"None, whatsoever," Pontius said.
While the county would be glad to lease the facility to an organization that will use it, she doesn't know what it would take to get it running.
"You are going to have to have insurance," she said.
The site also needs repair. She said the entrance road -- built of milled asphalt on a clay base -- is crumbling so badly she didn't feel safe even riding on it in a four-wheel drive truck.
"I wouldn't bring anyone in there right now," Pontius said.
Buildings on site have been so heavily vandalized that she hasn't felt safe going inside to see what's left. From what she's seen through windows, the office had BMX trophies on the floor and papers strewn from the desk.
The site also has a storage unit with a roll-up door that's locked. She can have county workers open it up, but is wary of that.
"Anything we break, we must fix," Pontius said.
The site had more users than cyclists. A model airplane field is still up and running, Pontius said, but a radio-controlled car racing track went out of use years ago.
Scheck said that "open bike nights" to allow riders to simply run the track without racing, used to charge $2-$3 per person.
Word of mouth could help anything regain a crowd, Scheck said, but word got out about it closing. People need to know something is happening before driving in from the Interstate 4 corridor or either coast, he said.
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