Balment Park BMX race track nearing completion

Recently formed Cranbrook BMX club hopes that refurbished track will invigorate cycling community

The dirt piles beside the skateboard park at Balment Park are looking a little different these days and soon it will be the hub of Cranbrook’s emerging BMX community.

At least that’s the plan, according to the visionary behind the new bicycle motocross race track, Laura Niehaus.

“[The old jump park] was not being used or maintained so we’ve been able to create something that will be a lot easier to maintain and will be better for the community,” Niehaus explained. “We will be hosting events, races and practices as a BMX Club, but [the new park] will also be open to the community for public use.”

Replacing the somewhat primitive Cranbrook Bike Skills Park with a BMX race track is an idea that Niehaus developed quickly upon moving to the city in September.

“[Our family] moved from Kelowna [where] they have a huge BMX community of families,” she said. “When we moved to Cranbrook I was quite surprised that, this being such a big bike community, they didn’t have a BMX track.

“I went in a search of an area to do it and came across the park here [so] I approached the city and proposed the idea of a BMX track to them, and they were really excited about it.”

On December 5, 2016, council officially moved to terminate the license of occupation for the area with the Cranbrook Bike Skills society and developed a new license with the Society for a BMX Bike facility for the next five years.

Niehaus and Cranbrook BMX then secured funding through local sponsors and support from local businesses and became an officially sanctioned track for BMX Canada in April.

“There’s been a lot of vocal support and sponsorship for it, and just the excitement for it,” Niehaus said. “Our loader was sponsored by Great West Equipment, the fuel to make our motor work was sponsored by Great Canadian Oil Change [and] Gerick Sports has been a big sponsor of ours.”

While the construction crew so far has been largely made up of Niehaus, her husband and her young kids, they are counting on a BMX community to shape up and make the project a long-term success.

“Eventually I think there’s going to be a small army of volunteers,” said Chris Niehaus. “A tight-knit team will be required to form the executive group that runs the BMX association and, in turn, a lot of hard labour.”

Constructed by Scott Murray from Squamish, the track is scheduled to be available for use by next week and will make its debut as a race track in August.

“[Murray] builds national race tracks all over Canada [so] we’re really lucky that he’s come all this way to do this track for us,” Laura Niehaus said. “We’ll have a drop gate, which will only be operational during events itself, but the drop gate is being fixed up and made nice for us by Fab-Rite.

“The caliber of race track that we’ve got here is pretty amazing in itself. It can be used with any other kind of bike, you don’t necessarily need a BMX bike to ride this track when events aren’t happening. Mountain bikers and different kinds of bikes can all use it when we’re not doing events.”

Niehaus hopes that a grand opening will take place over the August long weekend with a barbecue and fundraiser to celebrate the occasion.

“We just have a lot of packing and cleaning to do, and as long as people stay off of it this week we can get it completed,” she said. “It’ll be really neat to get a lot of people out here to see what BMX is all about.”

Niehaus added that the community is very fortunate to have the prime location for the new track.

“We are very, very lucky to have this race track right here in the heart of town,” she said. “Kids from the age of 2 to 72 can all ride and enjoy this track, and I’m trying to make it a [place] where people can come and hang out.

“Most BMX tracks don’t have that opportunity, they are out of town [and are] not always originally supported by the city,” she continued. “We’re very lucky that the city sees the potential here [and] it [also] brings people to town. We’ll be able to host provincial and hopefully eventually national events here.”

BMX was introduced as a Summer Olympic sport at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is an activity on the rise. Niehaus said that the new Cranbook track has received considerable attention not just in the city itself but across the region within the BMX communities in cities like Fernie, Lethbridge and Calgary.

For more information on the new track, the Cranbrook BMX club or the sport in general, Niehaus encourages community members to check out their Facebook page “Cranbrook BMX”, contact bmxcranbrook@gmail.com or visit BMXCanada.org.