Hitting the dirt pedaling with Bellingham BMX

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 13, 2014 

Cisco Rodriguez and his wife Jessica just wanted to give other kids the same opportunity and joy as their son Gus.

And maybe save a little gas money.

July 27 will mark the one-year anniversary for Bellingham BMX, a track Rodriguez and his wife own and operate to provide community members, and especially kids, with an outlet to build character through biking.

Gus, 9, showed a knack for bike riding at the age of 2 and was taken to Bakerview BMX in Mount Vernon for his first BMX bike camp at the age of 6 in 2011.

The BMX camp led to Gus's urge to race and Rodriguez, who used to ride BMX on the old Civic Field BMX course in the '80s, was thrust back in the world of biking.

The nearly 40-minute drive to Mount Vernon had started to take a toll on gas money as the family would drive south and back for weekend competitions, as well as make trips to other tracks around Washington and Canada.

After approaching the city of Bellingham with the idea of building a non-profit BMX track closer to home and leaving empty-handed, the Rodriguezes decided to take on the task themselves.

"We just got so excited about Gus loving it that we just got to thinking that (Whatcom County) needed a track," Jessica Rodriguez said. "It seemed so obvious at the time."

They gathered approval and sanctioning from USA BMX - the non-profit bicycle motocross governing body - by submitting a proposal for the track, outlining demographics, neighboring tracks and including background checks.

In searching for a venue, they found the 30-acre property of the old World Golf driving range on Guide Meridian. They still use many structural elements from the range, with the teeing area now a place for parents to sit in a shady spot and watch the races.

A two-year legal process then ensued with Whatcom County, working with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Health Department among other agencies to bring the track to life.

A public notice was distributed to the community for objections, which had to be submitted twice because residents objected to the noise a track would bring from loud motors, not understanding that BMX is bicycles.

The loudest noise coming from the track these days might be Cisco Rodriguez himself, who uses a headset microphone to call a play-by-play as youngsters maneuver the 1,100-foot, four berm - banked turn - course during each heat.

Each age group has a novice, intermediate and expert level, with 10 overall wins moving a rider up from novice to intermediate, and 20 wins moving a rider up from intermediate to expert.

Vincent Brashear, 5, and in the 5 and under novice division, was sitting in the gate with nine total victories with his mom Kena Brashear watching from the side, a camera in hand.

Vincent took an early lead after the gate dropped and finished in first to secure his 10th win, bringing about a huge smile and a certificate from Rodriguez introducing him to the intermediate class.

"It's a really great family sport," Kena Brashear said. "Parents help out with bike maintenance and it's really like we're extended family."

Rodriguez was self-employed for 12 years as a subcontractor before venturing back into BMX, so he felt fairly comfortable operating the track with his wife.

Bellingham BMX is a 501c3 non-profit - an income tax exempt organization for fostering amateur sporting competition. All the money made from practices and registration fees goes straight back to the track.

All the parents work as volunteers, working track maintenance, operating the starting gate and keeping track of points to upload to the USA BMX website for official district and state rankings.

"If it wasn't for the volunteers, we wouldn't be here," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez now works as a Facilities Manager for Saturna Capital, a financial investment company that has figured heavily into the success of Bellingham BMX. In addition to its own undisclosed financial contributions to the track, the company has a charity fund that allows employees to donate $3,000 to a charity of his or her choice.

Rodriguez, along with two other employees, donated their $3,000 to the track, providing $9,000 for maintenance, equipment and a specialized safety gate system to start races so riders won't get hurt.

Charges for racers are $5 for each Tuesday/Thursday practice and $10 for Friday and Saturday races. Each racer must also pay $60 to register with USA BMX, which goes toward insurance costs.

Those wishing to test out the track are given a one-day free trial and may use any type of bicycle.

Bellingham BMX also hosted a camp during the last week of June, much like the one that hooked their son Gus on BMX racing three years ago. They plan to host another camp next summer.

"We've had people come up to us and say, 'you don't know what you've done for our family,'" Jessica Rodriguez said. "We are doing it for the kids."

Rodriguez, his wife and countless parent volunteers continue to maintain the track and attempt to draw in racers. Though Bellingham BMX is still around two years from matching operating and construction costs, the three years invested have been worth it for the community involved.

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