After it appeared that Ray's MTB Park, 8365 N. 76th St., was near closing, a petition by Wisconsin Freeride Association was floated asking the Wisconsin Bike Fed and Milwaukee County Parks to come together to save it. However Eric Bjorling, a representative of Trek, insisted that they are doing everything they can to keep it open.
"We understand the people's passion for Ray's," said Bjorling.
I reached out to Ray's, Trek Bicycles, Milwaukee County Parks and the Wisconsin Bike Fed. This article has been updated with their responses.
When I asked Dave Schlabowske, the deputy director of the Wisconsin Bike Fed, about the potential purchase of Ray's by the Bike Fed, the outlook was not so good.
"I don't think so," said Schlabowske. "We don't have the kind of resources to purchase something like that. Most of our money is program money, for things like Safe Routes to School or driver's education."
Guy Smith, a representative from Milwaukee County Parks, responded with a quick statement and little hope of being able to honor the petition as well. Smith was familiar with Ray's, but not familiar with the petition. In regards to acquiring the park, they would probably "not have an opportunity to handle something like that."
But Eric Bjorling, a representative from Trek Bicycles projected a brighter future. While no decision has been made, Trek is "working actively to make sure that [closing the Milwaukee location] does not happen" and they see the petition as a positive. "If more people want to kick in, any effort to keep it open would be great."
Among the major reasons for pursuing new ownership and other strategies is that the company does not own the building out of which they operate and finding another building of appropriate size and location is difficult. "Since we don't own the building, it's very difficult to control the future of the park."
The Milwaukee area has tread upon a rocky road when it comes to mountain biking. In 2013, The Rock Sports Complex overhauled the private portions of Crystal Ridge mountain bike trails into some stellar award-winning downhill trails, but failed to attract enough interest to keep them going.
Little Switzerland, on the other hand, went from opening a few weekends a year, to opening most weekends.
The legality of mountain biking on the Milwaukee River Trails has also bubbled up on a semi-regular basis, but the activity is currently not allowed.
Schlabowske speculated that Ray's problem might have something to do with attendance. "I talked to Ray [Petro, the original owner] and he can't figure out why Milwaukee doesn't have the numbers. It may have something to do with the advent of Fat Biking. The Cleveland location had a chance to build itself a community. It's a family event. Lots of people go. The Milwaukee location came along a lot later, and Wisconsin is big with fat biking, so maybe people just ride outside in the winter."
But while attendance might appear lower, Bjorling insisted that the numbers were not a problem. "The participation is great."
For my money, the location is fairly inconvenient. It's located off of a main road on Milwaukee's north side and set back from a massive, unappealing parking lot. The lack of windows and visual excitement made the outside feel pretty dead. It didn't scream "Bike friendly location!" Schlawbowske agreed. "It's an unpleasant ride to get there from almost anywhere."
Still despite the challenges ahead, Ray's is great for cycling in Milwaukee and I hope it continues to be. Any time I went, there were people of all ages on all kinds of bikes, at all types of skill levels having fun in a season in which people tend to become sedentary. I saw three year olds learning on their first kick-bike, women flying around bouncy pump tracks, and, for something that looks so dangerous, I never saw tears.
So the Wisconsin Freeride Association's solution of collaboration between advocacy and government groups may not come to fruition, but it may still be worth signing, if only to give data to Trek that helps show support.
"[If Ray's closes] it's definitely going to leave a hole in the scene. I noticed riders were getting better. The way Ray's built the progressive nature, people can learn and get better."
Keep checking back for updates as they become available.
Update 7/21 at 4:10PM: Included comments from Eric Bjorling, a representative from Trek Bicycles
Update 7/22 at 9:17AM: The petition has been updated to note that they are asking the Wisconsin Bike Fed to play an advisory role, not a financial one.
Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park originated in Cleveland, Ohio in 2004 when Ray Petro became frustrated with the winter season hampering his ability to ride. In 2010, thanks to an acquisition and funding from Trek, Petro was able to open a second 110,000-square foot location in an old Menards Home Improvement Center on Milwaukee's North Side.
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.