Virginia park representatives brief public on proposed mountain bike ride center at Pocahontas State Park

In recent years, Chesterfield has been increasing emphasis on sports tourism and has found success in efforts like the Collegiate School Aquatic Center and the Bronco World Series hosted at Harry G. Daniel Park at Iron Bridge. Chesterfield’s sports tourism stock may be on the rise after the announcement of a proposal to build part of the Richmond Regional Ride Center at Pocahontas State Park.

Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) along with Pocahontas State Park held a public meeting Aug. 1 to discuss a proposed amendment to the 2011 Pocahontas Master Plan. The amendment will pave the way for construction of a Richmond Regional Ride Center at Pocahontas State Park, which is being built for 2015 UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) Road World Championship. During the public meeting, the proposal was met with wide support.

“I heard [2015 UCI Road World Championships] will bring people from 75 countries to Richmond and I think anything that makes us look bike-friendly is a good thing,” said Laurie Davidson, Women’s Multi-Sports of Richmond, about the proposal. “We will have a ton of people coming here to spend money, not just professional bikers but families, too.”

The amended master plan DCR and Pocahontas are proposing will build 32 more miles of mountain bike trails and skills area with welcome facilities. The proposal also refurbishes 25 miles of existing mountain bike trails. The welcome facility will have restrooms, changing rooms, two rinsing showers, a large picnic shelter for event registration, 100 parking spaces and a large grassy area for event staging. The proposed facility will be located on the north side of the park along Courthouse Road.
Unique to this project is the hand cycle training center.

“I think we really need to emphasize the hand-cycle training center,” said Bob Weatly, president of Richmond MORE. “In Richmond, hand cyclist have no place to ride and there is nothing like this in the country; this is the crown jewel [of the proposal.]”

The hand cycling course will be accessible to disabled riders and allow them to be introduced to mountain biking by gaining confidence on a beginners level course with wider trails. Riders will have access to a storage area and shop to repair or adjust hand cycles or mountain bikes.

“Everybody has said this is a really good idea because of the close proximity to the veterans hospital,” said Bill Conkle, DCR park planner. “It could be used as a therapeutic model or a model for the entire county.”

The room of nearly 60 people was overall in favor of the project, though some current park users and surrounding residents express concerns over the proposal. Deer Run resident Lynwood Hines, who is in favor of the project with some trepidation, wanted mountain bikers to be reminded of other users.

“There are a lot of people who use that section of the park,” said Hines. “And [mountain bikers] have to keep the perspective of other users who are using the park for their purposes.

“You have to keep in mind that this mountain bike facility is going to be next to neighborhoods.” he continued. “And they use the trails to walk and hunt the surrounding land.”

Also expressing concerns over the added use of the park were equestrians. Pocahontas currently has over 13 miles of bridle horse trails, as well as 52 miles of multi-use trails.

“I’m concerned about the closure of the equestrian facilities which happens frequently, for private events,” said Susan Kerr, who rides horses at Pocahontas Park. “Any impact to the trails or access to the trails concerns me.”  

DCR and Pocahontas are in the early stages of planning. As with all state parks, Pocahontas has to submit a Master Plan every five years which outlines future changes to the park. To have the new ride center built, DCR needs to amend the 2011 Master Plan. Currently they are in the public review phase where they are receiving public input. Next, the proposed amendment will go before the DCR board for recommendation then to the General Assembly for a 30-day review. If approved by the General Assembly, it will go to the DCR director to be signed.

Park planners are hoping to have the plan to the General Assembly by mid-October, and they have set a goal to have the ride center built by April 2015 to coincide with the 2015 UCI Road Race Championship being held in Richmond.

“Even if the amendment is approved, there is no guarantee it will be built,” said Dan Quesenberry, Pocahontas State Park manager. “This isn’t a state-funded project, so, we have to rely on donations.”

Last month, Governor Bob McDonnell accepted a $50,000 donation for the project from Dominion Virginia Power which was matched by Virginia Parks.

Because the project is in its infancy, there hasn’t been a design yet so no exact dollar amount has been set.  

“We’re in the beginning stages where things are happening and they are happening fairly quickly.” said Conkle. “There’s more work to be done like fundraising and design work but we’re up for it.”

According to Magnum Economic Consulting, LLC, the proposed ride center could generate an additional $2.7 million in economic activity, $867,679 in additional labor income, 31 additional full-time equivalent jobs and $212,360 in additional state and local tax revenue.

“The nice thing about this project is the legacy.” said Conkle. “Like the Olympics, facilities are built for the events then the community gets to enjoy them afterwards”

Pocahontas State Park’s current master plan can be viewed at www.dcr.virginia.gov.

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