Wednesday June 17, 2015 Good Times by JOH RATHBUN
Plans for an educational adventure park in Felton are awaiting approval, but not everyone is thrilled
For two years, Mount Hermon developers have had a vision for a new kind of adventure park in Felton—a $4 million project that includes a “magic carpet” to transport mountain bikers to the top of a hill, two lush green BMX pump tracks and a giant inflatable air bag so riders can practice tricks safely. They would also add a day camp for kids, a community garden, a science center, and an aerial ropes course—an obstacle course that uses ropes and pulleys. All of this would be adjacent to the Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center, which already operates the county’s only zipline.
But so far, the plans have hit a major bump in the track. Opponents, including the powerful San Lorenzo Women’s Club, don’t want to see anything built there, fearing that development would endanger wildlife, threaten the water supply and bring in too much traffic.
The developers planned to have the park built by now, and will continue to forge ahead despite facing environmental reviews and public hearings into the unknown future.
“It’s a little disappointing, but we are committed to the project,” says Nate Pfefferkorn, director of Adventure and Recreation Programs at Mount Hermon. “We really feel like we are doing something that is a great development for Felton and a great opportunity for families and activities, and it will be a great place to be in San Lorenzo Valley.”
The 14.8-acre plot, which Mount Hermon bought three years ago, is adjacent to the Felton Fair Shopping Center on Graham Hill Road, which includes a Safeway and Ernie’s Service Station. It also borders the property that Mount Hermon Christian Center has owned since 1906. The meadow was owned by the South County Housing Trust, which had planned to build affordable homes there but ended up selling the property after residents shot down that proposal.
“We think we have one of the lowest impact things possible for the site compared to anyone else who would own it,” says Pfefferkorn. “We all know housing is needed in the county, but then the land wouldn’t be available for everyone to enjoy. They could put a shopping center there, but then there would be pavement and lights and retail.”
That’s not enough for Nancy Macy, co-chair of the San Lorenzo Valley Women’s Club’s environmental committee.
“We’re concerned that one of the main entrances to the San Lorenzo Valley will be greatly impacted by this development,” she says. “If this area is developed, it loses its ability to support the various animals. Ideally, I’d like to see the land stay undeveloped … but who wants to see big dirt piles with bike riding all over it?”
The SLV Women’s Club is also concerned about the steelhead in the San Lorenzo River and Zayante Creek, a lack of water conservation, paving of sandhills, cutting of the riparian area for the pedestrian bridge and native grasslands on the southwest acre. They are asking for another Environmental Impact Report, saying that earlier studies were inaccurate.
“The proposed complex develops 12 acres of the 14.8-acre parcel, assuring that it will no longer provide habitat for a wide variety of animals and birds, nor rare plants,” SLV Women’s Club President Lynn McKibbin wrote to the planning department.
Pfefferkorn says many of those issues have been addressed before they proposed the project, and would be clarified in the next EIR. He says the park will give the Valley some much-needed recreational activities and will give families a place to visit together.
Unlike other bike parks, this would be geared to beginners and intermediates with teachers who will help riders advance. It will be called Velocity Bike Park and will be designed by the Canadian firm Alpine Bike Parks, which built the Valmont Bike Park in the cycling capital of Boulder, Colorado. It will be the first one in this part of the country to have a conveyor belt to bring mountain bike riders to the top of the hill, something that Pfefferkorn says will aid beginners who aren’t in good enough shape to ride to the top constantly.
The entry fee with bike rental and lessons could be $90, Pfefferkorn says, but he plans to keep fees comparable to other gyms and bike parks. Mount Herman charges $89-$99 for ziplining and attracts some 30,000 users a year. The pump tracks here will be physically different than those springing up around the country.
“Most are piles of dirt with a fence around it,” says Pfefferkorn. “Ours will be beautiful. This has no fences. There are beautiful berms with native, drought-resistant plants. We want a safe place that will maximize instruction. We come to it with a different perspective. We provide programs for kids and families so they can come together and learn about themselves and their relationships.”
At least one politician has weighed in positively: “What I love about the bike park is that it is a broad-based sport for our families,” says Felton City Councilmember Stephanie Aguilar. “And I’d love the ropes course.”