Flyin’ High at Lake County’s Mt. Elbert Moto
By Kathy Bedell, © Leadville Today
Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines! The Mt. Elbert Moto Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) track is officially open for the season today, May 24. This will be the first full season for one of Lake County’s newest recreation areas.
For years, local motocross enthusiasts could only dream about flying through the air on a professional OHV track in the highest city in America. But that all changed when Mt. Elbert Moto officially opened on June 15 of last year.
This Lake County facility has both a youth and an adult course, with future plans to add single track trails and possibly a beginner/intermediate course. The adult course is a 2/3rd mile loop that will likely see some riders visiting from the front-range, but is primarily targeted to a more local crowd.
Memberships for Mt. Elbert Moto are $130 for the season and are available at Silver City Conoco (by Safeway) and the Lake County Recreation Department (505 Harrison Ave.) All users must have either a season or day pass and day pass users may only visit as the guest of a season pass holder. Season passes for those who are 12+ are $130, children ages 11 and younger are free when they come with a paying adult. Day passes are $20. Day users do not get to bring guests and also need to sign a waiver available at the Conoco.
Season pass members are put on a mailing list for the gate combination changes and information, including volunteer work days. We had 44 members last year
All riders must have a signed waiver. All users must wear a DOT approved helmet, goggles, above ankle boots, and protective clothing. Only 80cc+ engines are allowed, except in the case of advanced 65cc+ riders who have an adult monitoring for them while no one else is using the track.
Mt. Elbert Moto – The Back Story, © Leadville Today
Officially established as a Colorado nonprofit corporation on February 2, 2012, Mt. Elbert Moto (MEM) was created in order to develop a private-public partnership with Lake County whose end mission was to assist in the development of an OHV park.
But the story actually starts before all of that, explains Lake County Commissioner Mike Bordogna. Most recall, it was back in 2006 that the original group of motocross enthusiasts gathered and proposed a test track to gauge the level of interest in developing a motocross track. The interest seemed to be there. After all, an OHV park was a recurring priority on the Recreation Master Plan, a document vetted annually by citizens and the Recreation Advisory Board.
But as things sometimes go, the timing wasn’t quite right, the funds were not in place, and there was a sizable amount of planning required, so the project was put on the back burner for several years.
In recent years, interest in developing the track peaked again – and the current team (of three) came together in somewhat of a perfect storm to move the project forward in leaps and bounds over the past 18 months.
The three founding members of Mt. Elbert Moto are James McNicholas, Phil Stevens and Mike Bordogna. Or perhaps more aptly put, a public works employee with a passion for riding, a woodworker with a pro-rider past, and a County Commissioner with a vision for recreation in Lake County.
So with a full tank of gas, the group moved forward with their plan to bring an OHV park to Lake County. Fortunately, they conquered their first big obstacle by securing funds in the form of a $207,000 grant from the Colorado State Trails Grant Program. These funds are generated from the sales of OHV use stickers around the state.
One of Mt. Elbert Moto’s next hurdles – or jumps, as they say in the motocross world – was insurance. Of course when it comes to recreation, Lake County has a number of recreational “liabilities” insured, from the tubing hill to the ice skating rink to the gun range. But as Commissioner Bordogna soon discovered, once you put a motor in the mix, insurance liabilities and caps change significantly. Would the project experience another stall?
Fortunately MEM found its tank refilled with information shared from a neighboring private motocross in Summit County: The Tenderfoot Track Club. MEM was able to purchase insurance from the same carrier that covers the Tenderfoot Track for only $2,700 annually.
So the operating entity was in place and the insurance issue was resolved, allowing Mt. Elbert Moto to sign the lease with Lake County. Basically, the county would take over the construction phase and once it was complete, Mt. Elbert Moto would operate the park on county-leased land, an arrangement similar to the local shooting range agreement.
So now that the nuts and bolts were squared away, who would design the track? Enter Phil Stevens former pro rider and Lake County resident.Phil Stevens designed the Mt. Elbert Moto track, drawing from his experience as a Pro Rider. Photo Courtesy: Phil Stevens.
“I started racing when I was about seven. I raced all around Colorado and Wyoming. I turned local pro when I was 15, got my AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) pro license when I was 16 and went to Nationals,” said Stevens describing his background in the sport. Stevens rode for the Kawasaki Amateur Program called Team Green and captured two amateur national titles and three local pro titles at regional championships during his racing career.
So it’s safe to say that Stevens knows his way around an OHV track and what features make for a good, safe course. Stevens’ approach to designing Mt. Elbert Moto allows riders to progress within the track.
“I designed the jumps in such a way that where you land has a nice gradual slope, which is a safer design than a steeper slope. [This feature] helps riders work into some of the bigger jumps,” Stevens explains. So on the high end is a 13 foot jump, which runs 70 feet in distance. The smaller jumps on the back side of the track range in height from 3 – 5 feet for beginners.
Another unique feature of the course is the “walk through” – a six foot culvert which will allow people to pass through to the inside of the track to watch all of the action without having to cross over traffic on the course. Safety first!
At this stage in development, Mt. Elbert Moto is still considered to be a practice track and does not have plans to hold races on it anytime in the near future. “Races equal more insurance,” explained Bordogna.
Now at this stage in the project, the paperwork and funding were in place for Mt. Elbert Moto, the course had been designed by a former pro rider, all that was left was to build it.
Who better for the job than a guy who had spent most of his youth getting to know every back road track in Lake County: James McNicholas.
“It’s going to be a great thing for the community, for sure,” said McNicholas, onsite foreman for the project and employee of Lake County Public Works. And he outta know. McNicholas grew up in Leadville and has had a passion for motocross since he was old enough to ride.
“I raced for about three years in the late 90s,” explained McNichloas. “But I ended up breaking my femur (on a ride), because we didn’t really have a place like this to come riding. There wasn’t a track to ride and practice.”
But all those broken bones and plans were put to rest on Tuesday, October 16 when McNicholas called the track DONE!
“Today the track is completed!” reported McNicholas on Tuesday. “We came in under budget with about $50,000 left over.”
In fact, the State Trails Program is wanting to use Mt. Elbert Moto as an example for other applicants because they were so far under budget on the project. The good news, Bordogna added, is that the group has received an extension on the grant funding to use that money for an additional year for signage and other features for the track.
So what’s the track built with?
“We had the pit run (gravel) left over from the airport project and raised those jumps with some dirt as well. So really the only cost out of pocket for the county was some sand to mix in with the crusher fine and the rental of the D-4 (a little dozer),” explained McNicholas.
Phase one, opened June 15, 2013, which included an adult motocross track, a kid’s track and a perimeter trail for use by off-road motorcycles and ATVs. Future phases will be constructed in subsequent years to add a fenced in trail network for motorized use only.
Inquiries or questions regarding Mt. Elbert Moto may be directed to Mike Bordogna at email@example.com.