Wisconsin's New Epic MTB Ride Center

Last year Valmont BikePark opened  in Boulder, CO to great renown and celebration. This park raised the bar for mountain bike locations and destinations by providing a wide range of high quality riding options for people of all ages and skills. Check out the map below of Valmont’s amazing features.

Where in Wisconsin can we drop this plan?

As explained here, the park came about, not surprisingly, through the hard work, dedication and persistence of a few citizens. The park also would not have happened without a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) that was put forth by these dedicated citizens and bought in by the Boulder political and business community.

Wisconsin’s off-road bicycling assets are different, but just as good as those found in Colorado. As you can see by the topographic map of the park by Boulder, you don’t need a 2,000 vertical feet of drop to have a great mountain bike experience. Our neighbors in Minnesota and Michigan proved that and are reaping the return on their investment at the Cuyuna and Copper Harbor mtb ride centers. Valmont, Cayuna and Copper Harbor (and soon Duluth) have received lots of national attention and now draw hundreds of thousands of visitors. That is a big boost to local economies on a very small investment combined with lots of hard work from dedicated volunteers.

Why then haven’t we in Wisconsin created places like Valmont? After all, we have the largest mountain bike racing series in the country in WORS (Wisconsin Off-Road Series) ? We have the great locations, the trail building knowledge, and we have the volunteers in our many mountain bike clubs and teams. The answer is simple of course: we haven’t tried.  We haven’t created a big vision; we haven’t organized, and we haven’t made the compelling case to political and business leaders.

At least we haven’t yet! I can think of few locations in Wisconsin that have the potential for a Valmont-caliber bike park. Tuesday I visited a site that’s a great candidate.

Crystal Ridge sits on a former landfill and is located on Milwaukee’s south side in Franklin. The land is currently leased by Milwaukee County to a ski operator. Crystal Ridge adjoins the large Whitnall Park which houses the wonderful Boerner Botanical Gardens amidst playgrounds, picnic areas and tremendous wooded, sloping Wisconsin beauty. Both Crystal Ridge and Whitnall Park contain Milwaukee County’s first officially designated mountain-bike trails, the Alpha Trail. The trail system is a popular destination for Milwaukee-area off-roaders and hosts the long-standing Wisconsin Off Road Series (WORS) Alterra Coffee Bean Classic which coincidentally is happening this coming Sunday, July 15th.

Marry's garage. "I'm a trail builder at heart."

Much of the credit for the Alpha Trail’s very existence is due to the leadership, the organizing and the hard trail-building work of the Metro Mountain Bikers. Metro organizes many social rides, they harness tons of volunteer trail builders and they work to promote mountain biking across southeastern Wisconsin.

It’s hard to imagine Metro without the tireless work of Marty Weigel. Marty is just my kind of guy: he’s the long-standing owner of the West Allis bar & grill Benno’s; he’s a West Allis alderman, and he’s a committed promoter of walkable and bikeable communities.

Marty also loves to build trail. In fact he has personally devoted thousands of hours creating not only the Alpha Trail network but the Metro trails in and around the Menomonee River in Wauwatosa.

Yesterday Marty and I rode out at Crystal Ridge with our mutual friend  Hansi Johnson. Hansi is the Midwest Regional Director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and is my colleague in developing the partnership between IMBA and the Bike Fed.

I have ridden my road bike through Whitnall Park and Boerner Botanical Gardens many times however I was blown away when we rode our mountain bikes to the top of the ski hill at Crystal Ridge. The site has the elevation, the woods, the beauty and the land for a great bike park. Marty, Hansi and I agreed that the site needs a BHAG. Valmont could happen at Crystal Ridge.

Marty and Hansi. "Are we in Colorado?" No, Milwaukee's south side.

Thankfully Marty and Metro have been thinking big. Metro recently became an IMBA Chapter which gives them direct access to IMBA’s deep resources. They are also bringing in experts to help them clarify and quantify their vision. Today Scott Linnenburger from Kay-Linn Enterprises (and IMBA’s former Director of Field Programs) is going to be visiting Crystal Ridge to help bring Metro’s big ideas in to focus.

And now is the time. Crystal Ridge is finally attracting the attention the site needs. Recently Milwaukee-area businessman Michael Zimmerman proposed putting a large baseball complex on a now unused section that contains the capped landfill. Zimmerman has his BHAG and he’s coming to the table with a large investment that would improve the facilities, the roadways and the infrastructure. This is an opportunity to join his plan with a great bike park plan. The two plans would fit well on the site, would complement each other and would create a tremendous, popular destination for all types of residents and visitors.

The Bike Fed is here to help create BHAGs and to work with you to see them happen in your community. Could Valmont be built in your community? With a big vision and a good plan, there is no reason why Crystal Ridge couldn’t become Wisconsin’s newest epic mountain bike ride center. What are the other big ideas that you see out your front door?

About Kevin Hardman, Former Executive Director

Kevin is the former Executive Director of the Wisconsin Bike Fed. He lives in Wauwatosa with his wife and three daughters. Kevin is happiest on a bike, any type of bike!

7 thoughts on “Wisconsin's New Epic MTB Ride Center

    • Thanks John! Right now the trail designer is scheduled to do his thing and make recommendations. We will keep everyone up to date on the happenings there. We are thinking big on this, future Red Bull competitions, etc. There might even be a place for corporate partners.

    • Thanks Becky. I agree, the opportunity is really exciting. Crystal Ridge is certainly a nice place to ride already, but it has so much more potential.

  1. I have recently moved back to Milwaukee and enjoy mountain biking very much. I am very interested in participating in the development of this center and will gladly volunteer to help make it happen. Where is the best place to stay connected to recent developments on this great project.

    • Hi Chris.

      Your best bet is to subscribe to the Bike Fed blog and follow closely the work of the Metro Mountain Bikers.

      So glad you’re willing to lift a shovel for Wisconsin off road.


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