Bikers Swarm the Crocket Hills Flow Trail
The East Bay Regional Park District opens six miles of new single-track trails just for mountain bikers.
Mountain bikers are taking the new flow trail in Crockett by storm.
Photo by Jason Van Horn
Chances are you’ve never heard of Crockett Hills Regional Park. Located in an isolated patch of Contra Costa County, the park lies near the sleepy town of Crockett and San Pablo Bay. But for mountain bikers in the Bay Area, Crockett Hills recently became the mecca of adventure cycling.
In January, the East Bay Regional Park District completed about six new miles of trails in Crockett Hills Regional Park specifically designed for mountain biking at a cost of $45,000.
“There is no other trail like this in our district,” said Sean Dougan, a senior planner with the park district. “It’s the first time that we’ve attempted to construct a flow trail in the district.”
A flow trail refers to a trail with grade reversals, which means a rider going uphill will still find downhill stretches. To be more explicit, these are singletrack trails with features like banked turns and rolling terrain and consistent surfaces free of angles, corners, and obstacles. In essence, they are built so that a rider flows down such a trail, which is quite distinct from a regular hiking trail, according to the International Mountain Biking Association.
Nat Lopes is the cofounder and principal designer of Hilride. Hilride is a local park design, tourism development, and marketing media production company that helped orchestrate the design of the Crockett trail, where the mountain biking trails are narrower than hiking trials. Building the flow trail required the team to hire a small bulldozer to carve out the tracts. The trail includes other features not usually seen in many other parks, including berm turns, or raised turns in the trail, plus rollers and tabletop jumps.
The entire trail—about 14 miles in length—loops through rolling grasslands and eucalyptus woods, with the hills of the course exposed to a pleasant ocean breeze. Lopes estimated that with the newly completed trail the park has attracted up to 500 visitors a week, which is a major uptick from the handful of hikers who previously used the park’s trail on a regular basis. That former trail was uninspired from a mountain-biking perspective, because it involved lots of straight pedaling through overgrown grassy fields.
“From what I hear, it’s been wildly successful,” Lopes said of the redone trail. “It was certainly an underused and undervisited park for how incredible an area it is.”
The transformation of the park into a cyclist’s paradise didn’t happen overnight. According to Mike Udkow, president of the Bicycle Trails Council of the East Bay, mountain bikers waged a campaign for years to get the park district to open up more narrow trails suited for cyclists. He pointed out that mountain bikers mostly stick to fire trails and old ranch roads, which are dangerous enough to merit slapping on some additional “armor” before taking them on. For him and other mountain bikers, the Crockett flow trail is a rare gem in the Bay Area.
The park district eventually agreed to revise its master park plan to install several narrow trails through the East Bay, including a few miles of track in Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park. But, he said, nothing really compares to the Crockett trail.
“Almost all of the parks that I ride, there’s just fire roads,” Udkow said. “There’s nothing like this in any park where you get miles of flowing single track that we love to ride.”
Unlike with other trail projects in the East Bay, the developers of the Crockett trail didn’t have to worry about impacting the habitat of endangered creatures like the Alameda whipsnake, tiger salamander, or red-legged frogs. There are none in the area. But there is at least one animal that has managed to temporarily halt the expansion of the trail.
“It was discovered that there was a nesting pair of golden eagles in the general area where the trail line was going to go through,” Lopes said. “So the decision was made to hold off for the nesting season and just see what those guys are going to do.”
The influx of cyclists into Crockett hasn’t gone unnoticed by the local population, which is a little more than 3,000. While tourism is a boon for the town, Dougan said his office has received several calls complaining about the increased usage on the trail. As a result, the park district plans to increase patrols in Crockett, as well as install signs to inform visitors of trail etiquette (for example: No whizzing down the narrow track. Cyclists must stay below 15 miles per hour). Dougan noted that the flow trail is an experiment for the park district. If it works out, there may be more of them in the future. But that requires good behavior on the part of cyclists.
“If they can show that this is not going to harm resources or other users, if they show respect, we’re going to be able to do this in the future,” Dougan said. “But all eyes are on this trail right now.”