Rocky Mountain sandbox: 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 as an early summer sunset began 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 both the caretakers and visionaries behind the Leadville Motocross Park. And ever since Jeff, a former pro mountain bike racer, kicked his mountain bike habit to the side eight years ago for the distinct “braap, braap” engine sound of a dirt bike, 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 that also owns a home in town — live out of their RV at the moto park each summer. Along with their trusty right-hand men Scott Collins, Nic Drago and “Water Truck” Tommy Whittaker, they treat the quality of the dirt much like a terrain park crew perfects jumps at a Summit County ski resort.
When the crew completes its park prep work, 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 Scott have cultivated at the Leadville Moto Park that has provided the newest chapter in a history and culture of 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, when you get a dirt bike, you realize how many of your neighbors have dirt bikes, and it’s the majority.”
Kim said there was a sense about 10 years ago in the Leadville community that the town would benefit from a centralized motocross park, one where community members could convene to ride in a park format rather than more singletrack style. Then, 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, 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 up at the park, Jeff began the process of making the park what it is today. First and most importantly, he worked with Scott to acquire what Scott dubs “the magic dust.” It’s sawdust from Scott’s employer, Cutting Edge near Copper Mountain, that the company previously was 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 and clay, 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 deicing out of the bottom. On a typically dry day, Jeff said, it may take up to 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 across the state and country. Loam is a term used in mountain- and dirt-bike circles to describe perfect forgiving-yet-grippy riding conditions that not only feel like landing on pillows but also provide for ideal rutting later in a riding session. Think about it as the dirt equivalent to blower pow on the mountain in wintertime.
“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.”
Kegus and Scott 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 last Thursday 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 elevation has its athletic advantages. But more and more, they “freak out,” as Kim said, at the feel of Leadville’s “brown pow.”
Kim — who Jeff referred to as the “track mama” — said season-pass memberships are up 900% since the track opened earlier this decade. Still, the Kegus and Scott 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 looking ahead, if the moto park crew is hopeful to see any riders come by, it’s more Lake County 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 nearby. He wrangled them over to tell 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.”
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