8 Months after Being Shut Down, San Lee Gravity Bike Park Reopens with Redesigned Trails

Photos courtesy of Donn Otte

Eight months after the San-Lee Gravity Bike Park in Sanford, North Carolina was shut down by the local government, the park reopened with completely redesigned trails.

Several crashes prompted Lee County to shut down the park and reevaluate safety. The bike park had been built on county land with approval, but land managers had a mostly hands-off approach until repeated injuries occurred on jump trails in the park. We reported on the closure in April.

The county discontinued access in late spring and began consulting trail building groups, as most of the building prior had been done by a few locals, namely Donn Otte, who built most of the trails in the park.

In June, county manager John Crumpton told Singletracks they were evaluating the safety of the trails and the layout. They found a need for a continuum of progression in the park. Five out of six trails were identified “as having elements for experts and the remaining one trail is designated as intermediate.” They also found that there weren’t any ride-arounds on features, which could complicate safety and the return, or climbing trail, intersected with a downhill jump trail.

Many riders were concerned about how long the closure would last, especially heading into peak riding season. Ahead of this weekend’s opening, Crumpton told Singletracks, “One of the main drivers for doing all this work is the impact that mountain bikers as a group has on our local economy and community. The involvement by them and their support for the trails convinced us to upgrade the park from a safety standpoint and get them riding again.”

When Joseph Litaker of Black Diamond Trail Designs heard about the closure, he got in touch with the county and asked how he could help. Litaker said they used what they could, but it had been more of a rebuild of the park, than a reshaping. They examined the progression between trails, the traffic issues on the return trail, and the gap jumps on the Insanity trail.

“They were really well built,” said Litaker. “It was a shame to take them down, but they (Lee County) didn’t want the gaps out there, so I figured that’s where we’d kill two birds with one stone.”

The new return trail doubles as an emergency access trail, allowing responders quicker access to injured riders.

Litaker mentioned the project was valued at roughly $75,000, and upon completion includes the redesigned emergency and access trail, and five downhill trails each between a quarter- and three-quarters of a mile in length. One will be a technical downhill trail.

Black Diamond improved sightlines, heightened and widened the lips of the jumps, and widened the landings. Some of the mis-landings and injuries may have come from too much speed and not enough amplitude, and the new jumps will hopefully reduce that combination. He felt bad tearing down the old jumps that Donn Otte built.

“I can see where it’s kind of disheartening for him to see a lot of his stuff going away and a lot of new stuff going into place and we’re trying to be really sensitive about that,” said Litaker.

Otte said he hasn’t been involved much in the redesign process, but he’s pleasantly surprised with how the park has shaped up.

“The builders have done an excellent job,” said Otte. “I mean obviously as the original designer, I have my opinions, but it’s sure a hell of a lot easier letting them build it than me putting in all the effort,” he said with a laugh over the phone.

Otte said the features looked significantly bigger than what he had built, something he did not expect, and he’s happy that the park still has advanced features.

“I think it’s the best-case scenario,” said Otte. “Hopefully people follow the progression and be safe.”

Opening day is slated for December 11 and includes a ribbon cutting ceremony, a cookout, and jumps. Lots of jumps. See the bike park’s Facebook page for more info.

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