By Steven Fletcher Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — Almost 1,000 riders, about a mile of track, and two days of racing have left dark muddy cuts on the face of Stage Fort Park after the Gran Prix of Gloucester cyclocross competition last weekend.
The races, known colloquially as the New England Nationals, draws cyclists from across the country and from Europe. It’s one of the largest cyclocross events in the country and is run by Beverly cycling organization Essex County Velo.
But, two roughly 8-hour days of racing by around 950 riders Cwatched by a thousand or so spectators can tear up a park, especially in wet weather. This year, the races, essentially the steeplechase, left winding gouges through Stage Fort Park.
Essex County Velo (ECV), said race director Paul Bordeau, pays Gloucester landscaping company Wolf Hill Home & Garden to rake out the ruts and reseed the grass each year. This year isn’t any different. Wolf Hill will be out spraying grass seed and raking out the course by the weekend at the latest.
Some residents think ECV’s landscaping doesn’t go far enough.
“There isn’t enough money to fix this,” said David Dow, an Essex Street resident who uses the park almost every day.
Dow, a wiry man with white hair, walks the park trials with his dog. Every year for the last five or so years, the cyclocross races have left Stage Fort Park scarred. He stood near a muddy slope, cut between of the trees separating the park and the walkway by the harbor. That cutout, he said, is for the races, and it washes out when it rains.
“It shouldn’t be allowed,” he said.
Even with the landscaping, Dow said the park doesn’t return to normal until the spring. It’s a public park, he said, and it shouldn’t be destroyed just for a weekend race.
Trails from the race wind along the entire park, over the baseball fields and around the visitor’s center in tight, dark loops. The gouges are deep after two days of constant racing.
In the years that he has run the Department of Public Works, Mike Hale said race host Essex County Velo has taken good care of the park. Damage with those kind of races, especially on a rainy weekend, is inevitable, he said.
The race host cleans up the park as part of its permit.
“I believe everyone’s always satisfied once they’re through,” Hale said.
At the start of the first Gloucester cyclocross races in 1999, 150 riders took off. It’s been an annual tradition since, said Bordeau. Gloucester, he said, was one of the most beautiful cyclocross courses in the country.
The race has grown every year, in terms of ridership and spectators, taking off in 2003 and 2004 after the race came under the Union Cycliste Internationale, the world governing body for cycling.
“All over the country and all over the world, when you say Gloucester, they know exactly what you mean,” Bordeau said, said.
Cyclocross, said Bordeau, pushes riders through a challenging course in often more challenging weather. The course is roughly a mile long, and riders pound out lap after lap on it. Riders love the race, just as much as the conditions.
Bordeau said in 2005, riders had snow for one race and 60-degree sun for another. They still talk about that, he said.
The races, though, leave the park in rough shape. Bordeau says the aftermath of the races isn’t something he takes lightly.
“It’s going to look better after we’re done with it,” he said.
Dow, walking back toward the visitor’s center, pointed to a sign board where a pathway leads from the road to the bandstand, where in the background, race trails cut around the hill. The sign is black now.
“It used to say ‘Leave only your footprints’,” Dow said. “Well, there you go.”
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.