From left are Team Chehaw BMX Treasurer Ricky Lawrence, rider Sam Sharpe and Track Operator Graham Sharpe. (Staff photo: Laura Williams)
ALBANY — There’s a hidden gem at Chehaw. With zoo animals, playgrounds, nature trails and annual events the park has several wonderful features available for the public all year long.
But there is one spot that may sometimes get overlooked — the BMX track.
BMX, or bicycle motocross, may be considered a “new” sport by some, but has quickly gained traction since its development in the 1970s. A sport that requires athleticism, grace, coordination, balance, and lots of stamina, BMX racing boasts many attractive qualities, and was officially inducted as an Olympic sport during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beiijing.
“It has just taken off since it became an Olympic sport,” said Graham Sharpe, track operator for Team Chehaw BMX.
A collaboration in 1998 between Chehaw and local BMX representatives created a partnership which allows Team Chehaw BMX to use the park’s premises as its headquarters.
“We have been so fortunate to work with Chehaw,” said Sharpe. “Without Chehaw, none of what we’ve been able to accomplish would be possible.”
Those accomplishments include development of a top-notch course that is suitable for riders of various levels, on picturesque grounds that many tracks across the nation would love to brag about.
“Look around,” said Sharpe, gesturing at the picturesque and spacious grounds surrounding the track, “There are only a handful of places in the country that have what we have. It is such a wonderful resource both for riders all over the country and travelers passing through.”
Even though there are countless BMX tracks in the country, few can provide the amenities of Chehaw, such as adequate parking and views other than neighboring concrete buildings. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the Chehaw BMX track has been chosen as the host of September’s Gold Cup, one of the biggest national-qualifying events for U.S. racers.
“This is a huge honor,” said Sharpe, “and we are excited about the opportunity.”
But first, Team Chehaw BMX is planning some big changes.
Developments are under way to rebuild the current premises in order to expand the track, update its features, and increase its difficulty. Designed by the BMX track constructor of the 2012 London Olympics, Chehaw’s rebuild will award the track state-of-the-art facilities for any rider in the country.
In BMX racing, levels of difficulty range from 1-10, with 10 being the most difficult. The current track operates at an approximate difficulty level of 5.
The new changes will elevate the track’s skill of difficulty to 10, while continuing to be conducive to all levels of riding.
Maintenance of the track will also be made more efficient due to the addition of an underlying layer of carboniferous limestone, which can absorb rainwater and enable the track to dry and be ready for riders within 2-3 hours, rather than the current wait of 2-3 days.
It’s a tall order, but Team Chehaw BMX representatives are confident they can get it done.
“This project has been in the works for a while now,” said Team Chehaw BMX Treasurer Ricky Lawrence. “We’re glad we’ve finally been able to get it going — it’s really going to make this so much better for everyone, riders and the public alike.”
Backwoods Outdoors has already removed surrounding trees in preparation for the expansion, and renovations are set to begin March 18 — and be completed in one week.
“We’re going to be working out here 7 days a week, 24 hours a day,” said Sharpe, “but we’re going to get it done.”
The nonprofit Team Chehaw BMX has hosted raffles and fundraisers to pay for the renovations, but most costs have been covered by donations.
“It’s really been amazing how companies and people have supported us,” Sharpe noted. “Our new concession building was built entirely on donations, and it has helped us provide much better services on race day.”
Maybe the BMX track hasn’t been so overlooked, after all.
Gold Star Ambulatory Service has provided the necessary equipment and Maxey Fabrication of Vienna is donating irrigation supplies. More financial and services support comes from Pecan City Peddlers, Cycle World, Breakaway Cycles, Barbs Signs, Merry Acres Quality Inn, Albany Pathology and J&R BMX of Largo, Fla.
Team Chehaw BMX currently trains riders during practice sessions several days a week. Both Sharpe and Lawrence became fans of the sport because their children loved it. Sharpe’s 9-year-old son, Sam, is currently an intermediate rider, ranked No. 7 in Georgia.
He also has big dreams for the Olympics.
“I just want to keep doing what I’m doing as well as I can, and go from there,” Sam said. “One day, I hope I win a gold medal.”
Operating and maintaining the track takes a lot of time and dedication, but Sharpe and Lawrence wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You have to have a passion for it,” said Sharpe. “It takes a lot more effort than just getting out a shovel; you have to want to do it.
“But, it’s a wonderful sport, and we love it. We’re all a team, and we work together; that’s what makes it fun.”
The track is open to the public during park hours at a ride-at-your-own risk policy.
“I just met one father who likes to bring his children out here,” Sharpe said. “He had them in a wagon and was pulling them up and down the hills — he was definitely getting a workout!”
“We really just want people to know what a wonderful resource they have here,” said Sharpe. “We try to stay really involved in the community, and we love to see people out here.
“It’s a great place to be, and soon, it’s going to be even better.”
For more information of Team Chehaw BMX or the track, contact Sharpe at (229) 942-0856 or visit their website at www.chehaw.org.