Imagine a mountain bike club funded by a billionaire with access to private trails in exotic locations all around the world. A club so exclusive the trails are guarded by stone and barbed wire fences while personal chefs prepare your meals for you at the end of a day of hard riding. It turns out just such a club may actually exist…
photo: SOS Sao Mamede Facebook page
A reader recently tipped us off about a private mountain bike trail being constructed in Portugal near the Spanish border by a group calling itself the Global Conservation Mountain Bike Club. Initially locals were psyched about the project to build mountain bike trails on about 2,500 acres dotted with granite boulders and cork trees, hoping tourism might improve the relatively poor local economy. Efforts to reach out to the foreign trail builders didn’t get very far and soon 8-foot fences topped with barbed wire were erected around the site.
A group calling itself “SOS Sao Mamede” has been formed to fight the fences and here’s where the story gets interesting. After doing a little research, club members claim to have found a link to billionaire Kenneth Dart, an heir to Dart Container, makers of Styrofoam cups among other things. Dart himself is well known as a mountain biking enthusiast and conservationist so it isn’t hard to imagine he could be a supporter, though we couldn’t find any direct evidence he is involved with the Global Conservation Mountain Bike Club.
There are, however, stories online about Dart flying his Learjet to ride his mountain bike in remote places like the Yukon. In 1994 Dart renounced his US citizenship and moved to Belize in order to avoid taxes. Years later Bill Clinton was asked to speak at a political fundraiser at a mansion owned by Dart, and Clinton remarked “I don’t know what he is up to now, but I don’t want to go anywhere near this guy.” Dart keeps a low profile (some say he’s a recluse), fueling the speculation that he’s behind the secretive and exclusive Global Conservation Mountain Bike Club.
According to its website, the Global Conservation Mountain Bike Club’s mission is:
joining the enthusiasm and passion of truly dedicated mountain bikers and the willingness of private land owners to create a portfolio of world class single track mountain bike trails on gem properties around the globe. In doing so, a vast amount of majestic, virgin land in various climatic zones is being dedicated to environmental conservation and sustainable trail development.
The website showcases several of the properties including Blue Mountain in Jamaica with 2,000 feet of vertical descent plus a “kitchen staff (that has) become the best pizza chefs in the world, making from scratch pizzas in our on site brick pizza oven.” The club has access to 60km of trails in the Patagonia region of Chile and recently acquired Hamilton Island in British Columbia, renamed MacDonald island after the purchase. The club is also working on building mountain bike trails in New Zealand (check out the website to see plenty of drool-inducing trail pics).
The club’s ranch in Mexico, with 40km of trails, is currently closed after the 2010 murder of one of the club’s trail project managers, mountain biker Ken Klowak. Klowak and his colleague Scott Novak were en-route to the site when they were attacked by gunmen about 40 miles south of Eagle Pass, TX. Novak was also shot but survived the attack.
photo: SOS Sao Mamede Facebook page
Back to the situation in Portugal. The SOS Sao Mamede group wants to make it clear they are not anti-bike but they are concerned about closing off land that has been open and accessible for centuries. They’re also concerned about potential environmental issues like the use of cement in a park area where such materials are prohibited (perhaps for historical reasons?). Here’s how Richard Robinson put it:
These fences are turning this land from an open, accessible and welcoming one into one resembling a military zone. Wild boar have difficulty getting through, birds can be caught in and torn by the barbed wire and the fire services would be hindered in an emergency. Tourists (mostly walkers and cyclists) are noticing and they don’t like it. The trust and respect necessary between neighbours in such an environment is being replaced by concern and fear. This effect has nothing to do with mountain biking – it’s purely down to the fences.
I imagine the Global Conservation Mountain Bike Club has been caught off guard by the situation in Portugal and doesn’t seem keen on any type of publicity. And while they haven’t broken any laws as far as we can tell (other than the bit about the cement), the club can’t be too stoked about the locals’ reaction. Either way, it’s a fascinating story and incredible to think that such a collection of exotic mountain bike trails exists for an exclusive group of riders.
Where would you build your exclusive mountain bike trail system if you were a billionaire? What features would it include?