Bike paths proposed at Wells Overlook

Andrew McKee had been searching for a good site to build mountain bike trails when the observation tower on top of Wells Overlook Park beckoned in the distance.

“I’ve been kicking it around in the back of my head for about a year,” the Kansas University junior from Lawrence said. “It was just a matter of trying to find the right place.”

A few months ago, McKee approached Douglas County leaders about establishing a mountain bike course at the park. Members of the KU Cycling Club and the Lawrence Mountain Bike Club were interested, said McKee, a member of both. Earlier this week, a formal proposal for building the trails along the southwest corner of the park and then maintaining them at no cost to the county was presented to Douglas County commissioners.

They were generally supportive.

“I like the idea of Wells Overlook becoming more of a public-friendly environment,” Commission Chairman Bob Johnson said.

Local bicyclists already maintain and use trails at Clinton Lake and along the Kansas River. But those trails aren’t conducive for those who want to practice the “gravity-oriented” biking that mountain bikers favor. That’s the attraction of Wells Overlook, which is 2 miles south of Lawrence on Douglas County Road 458.

“It’s a big hill, and it’s close to town,” McKee said. “There is a road to the top so it’s easy for people to drive up to the top and ride back down.”

The trails can be built to minimize erosion, McKee said. “We have a pretty experienced trail crew,” he said. The trails will be built in stages.

Commissioners authorized the county administrator’s office to negotiate an agreement with the bike clubs that will address liability and maintenance issues.

The clubs and the county also consulted with Ken Lassman, whose grandfather donated the park land to the county in 1971.

“I think the mountain bike community in this area has a good record in building and maintaining trails,” Lassman said. “We think it will draw people to the beauty of the park, and we’re all for that. That’s what the whole goal of the park is.”