Rocky Mountain sandbox: Up in Leadville, locals have found the formula for the perfect ‘brown pow’ for dirt-bike riders
LEADVILLE — If you drive just south of this tree-line town over 10,000 feet and turn left at a dirt road, the one with a sign for the local airport, be sure to hang another left at the first fork in the road. If you continue down that rocky road to a green gate, you’ll find Jeff Kegu’s Paul Bunyan-sized sandbox.
“Jeff is able to have every little boy’s dream,” his wife, Kim, said Tuesday evening, an early-summer sunset beginning to illuminate the state’s highest point, Mount Elbert, in the distance. “He has this huge sandbox and he’s got real-life Tonka trucks that he gets to play with on this track.
“And he gets to ride it.”
The Kegus are, for all intents and purposes, both the caretakers and visionaries behind the Leadville Motocross Park. And ever since Jeff, a former pro mountain bike racer, kicked his mountain bike to the side eight years ago for the distinct “braap, braap” engine sound, he’s devoted his life to manicuring a dirt-bike mecca unlike any other across the nation.
Jeff has made it his life mission so much so that he and Kim — a couple who also owns a home in town — live out of their RV at the moto park each summer. From the RV, they — along with their trusty right-hand men such as Scott Collins, Nic Drago and “Water Truck” Tommy Whittaker — treat the quality of the dirt much like a terrain park crew perfects ski and snowboard jumps and trails at a Summit County Ski Resort.
When the crew completes their park prep work, heck, even the dirt is referred to in skiing and snowboarding jargon.
“‘Brown pow,’” Kim said. “That’s literally how they explain it.”
It’s that “brown pow” that the Kegus and Collins have cultivated at the Leadville Moto Park that has provided the newest chapter in a history and culture of loving dirt-bike riding in Leadville. At the highest incorporated city in America, rules restricting the riding of dirt bikes are much more lax than most towns. Essentially, as long as you’re not riding on a state highway or a main paved street, you’re free to rev it.
“People just ride them around,” Kim said. “It’s amazing how many people have dirt bikes that you don’t realize have dirt bikes. When you get a dirt bike you realize how many of your neighbors have dirt bikes, and it’s the majority.”
With that, Kim said there was a sense in the Leadville community that the town would benefit from a centralized motocross park-type location where community members could convene to ride in the park format rather than more single-track style, which also is bountiful around town. About a year after the track opened, the Kegus became more and more involved. And when Jeff began considering getting knee-deep in the dirt operation, a local High Country friend, Phil Stevens, told him the track wouldn’t be worth doing unless they did it right. And that meant shipping in dirt.
After their county commissioner approved them parking their RV at the park, Jeff began the process of making the park what it is today. First and most importantly, he worked with Collins to acquire what Collins dubs “the magic dust.” It’s sawdust from Collin’s employer, Cutting Edge Cabinetry near Copper Mountain, that the company previously was just taking to the landfill. Instead, every two weeks Scott and Jeff pack a trailer full of the dust before mixing it with sand purchased from a company down toward Buena Vista.
When you combine the sawdust and sand with the site’s natural dirt, all tilled with a John Deere tractor and sifted through a dirt screener, Jeff said there’s only one last ingredient to add to the secret formula: water.
To do so, Jeff drives a 1981 former municipal magnesium-chloride truck all over the park’s bumpy terrain. Jeff and Scott Jerry-rigged the old truck, which holds 1,800 gallons, to spray water out of the driver’s side rather than a salt-brine mix for de-icing out of the bottom. Jeff said on a typically dry day it may take as many as three, 35-minute trips to and from town to fill and spread enough water to get the “brown pow” to the exceptional “loamy” soft-riding standard that increasingly is making the park a desired destination for riders all across the state and country. Think about it as the dirt equivalent to blower pow out on the mountain in wintertime, as loam is a term used in mountain and dirt bike circles to describe a soft mixture for perfect forgiving-yet-grippy riding conditions that not only at times feels like landing on pillows, but also provides for ideal rutting later in a riding session.
“The deeper we get it, the better it is,” said Jeff, who works by day for Waste Management in Silverthorne. “It’s like a foot-or-two powder day on your snowboard.”
The Kegus and Collins say the riding conditions have become so good that the track is now inverting what was historically the typical migratory pattern for the state’s dirt-bike riders. Back in the old days, riders here in the mountains would drive down to the Front Range’s flats to ride the state’s best dirt. Now, there is an increasing number of Front Range riders making it a point to trek to above 10,000 feet, including female riders who come out each Tuesday during the summer for a weekly girls-ride night.
The park also has attracted some of the nation’s best riders, such as when a few elite privateers trained in Leadville for the following weekend’s AMA Motocross Nationals. For such high-quality riders, like any other sport, training at altitude has its athletic advantages. But, more and more, they are “freaking out,” as Kim put it, at the quality of Leadville’s “brown pow.”
Kim — who Jeff refered to as the track mama — said season-pass memberships are up 900% since the track opened earlier this decade. Still, the Kegus and Collins believe there is space to grow. Heck, they’ve used enough excess dirt from the airport construction down the street to widen the park for plenty more riders. And if the motopark crew is eager to see any riders come by more and more, it’s Lake County’s youngsters.
Jeff recalled a day last summer when he brought the relic of a water truck into town to fill up. While there, he noticed a group of young kids riding in circles in a dirt lot near by. He wrangled them all over and told them about what he has cooking up by the airport.
He welcomed them to join him at his life’s sand box for a different kind of Leadville lap.
“The place is turning into what it is because it’s managed by riders for riders,” Jeff said after finishing his water truck duties for the day. “And I think that has a lot to do with the quality of everything we are doing out here.”
The track at the Utah Olympic Park will be put to good use toward the tail end of 2022. The Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Cups stop at the UOP from Nov. 28 through Dec. 4, and then the Luge World Cup from Dec. 15 to Dec. 17.
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