Wayne White/Herald-Chronicle
An expert class racer bumps over obstacles rocky, tree-lined trail.

Wayne White | Managing Editor

MELVERN—Whirring and clacking, low-hanging leaves and branches slapping helmets, arms and legs, about 30 mountain bikers sped and bounced through trails along the Marais des Cygnes River Sunday. The riders were competitors in the first mountain bike race hosted by Melvern at the Riverside Trail and Park.

Experts in the race rode a total of 16 miles along the grueling and challenging racecourse laid out by organizers from High Gear Cyclery, in Emporia. But, surprisingly, most riders were smiling after making their laps around the course.

According to Lelan Dains, race director, the smiles were the result of challenges riders faced during the race and the fun of riding well-designed trails.

“All of the racers commented on how much they enjoyed it and found it very challenging,” Dains said after Sunday’s race.

“Mostly it was because of how the trail was laid out,” he said. “The trail’s design is what sets it apart. The features within it make it very good for racing – a lot of rocks and lots of technical spots.”

The race began at the gates of the park before descending into an old quarry where riders tested the structural integrity of their bikes going over boulders, up steep, rocky slopes, and through narrow tunnels of native trees. Several riders tested their own structural integrity. At least one rider crashed and flew over his handlebars on the initial lap of the expert race, but quickly jumped up and mounted before scrambling up a hill. Sixteen miles later, the same rider crossed the finish line smiling and echoing other racers huffing and puffing, “Great race!” and “Great course!” as they finished the race.

“The guys who designed it knew what they were doing,” Dains said.
The unsanctioned race was open to everyone and offered three classes for expert, sport and beginner cyclists. Experts completed four four-mile laps; sport racers finished three laps; beginners rode two laps or eight miles.

“This day has been a long time coming for the Melvern group,” said Sherry Davis, project coordinator of Kansas PRIDE Healthy Ecosystems-Healthy Communities Program. “Melvern’s Riverfront Trail and Park began as a water quality project to help the community protect their local water resources.”

She said one of the community’s goals was to create access to a water resource that would increase the public’s appreciation of water quality for recreation while maintaining the integrity of the natural area. The park also provides a healthy environment for native wildlife and plants of the local ecosystem, she said.

Dains said the idea for a race came from the Melvern Friends of the Trail, who approached the cycling store in Emporia about sponsoring a race.
“The Friends of the Trail simply wanted more people out there using their trail,” he said.

About 15 mountain bike races are held throughout Kansas during a typical season, Dains said. There’s a good chance Melvern will be the site of future races, he said.

“I anticipate this could be a yearly thing,” he said.

With the positive experience of Sunday’s race, plans are already being made for next year’s race. A 5K run could be one added event, he said.

Dains said he would encourage other cyclists to try Melvern’s trails, which are open to everyone year round.

“Generally speaking about the trail, most people would be surprised of what is there,” he said. “It’s worth a drive out there.”

Hiking, fishing and bird watching are a few other recreational opportunities available at the trails.

Race results:

Expert Men 34 and under
First, Matt Brown, Emporia
Second, Garret Seacat, Emporia
Third, Dustin Burgardt, Emporia

Expert Men 35+
First, Justin Farmer, Kansas City
Second, John Wagoner, Salina
Third, Bobby Smith, Wichita

Expert Women
First, Kathy Riedy, Topeka
Second, Michelle Pettigrew, Wichita
Third, Leslie Gallagher, Holton

Sport Men 35+
First, Tom Athon
Second, Scott O’Mara, Emporia
Third, Elliott Rodda, Wichita

Sport Men 34 and under
First, Dustin Sopoci, Topeka
Second, Joel Dixon, Emporia
Third, Clint Herrman

Beginner Men 34 and under
First, Clay Lambert, Emporia
Second, Spencer Allen, Emporia
Third, Josh Gold, Emporia

Sport Women
First, Anne Marie Garret