A cycling team passes through the park.

For nine days in mid-September, the city of Richmond, Virginia faced road closures, cancelled classes and full hotel rooms all in honor of one thing: the UCI Road World Championships, a highlight of the competitive cycling world. Called “Worlds” by those in the know, throughout the city it was referred to as simply the “bike race.” This major event has only been held in the United States once before, in Colorado Springs in 1986.

When I first got to Richmond, I learned that one of the events, the Team Time Trial, would be going through a one-mile portion of our park. Naturally I thought that was a pretty cool thing to be involved in. I soon learned that this was not a normal occurrence for a national park, however: parks are supposed to stay fairly strictly within their founding missions, and as a park focusing on the Civil War, bike racing was not exactly within our purview. The park however worked with the race developers to develop a Special Use Permit and meticulously planned everything about the race day to ensure it went smoothly and that the route showed off some of the park’s historic formations.

On the day of the race, over 300 people came into the park to watch the races. Some were local, some were cycling fans who had driven several hours.  Park rangers and VIPs had set up tents to share information about the park and the historical resources along the race route. As trade teams whizzed by, visitors rang cow bells, took endless pictures and stopped by the tents for water and informational flyers. Helicopters overhead showed the park on TV stations, likely around the world.

Bikers pass the Find Your Park-themed tent.
Bikers pass the Find Your Park-themed tent.

Many of the spectators biked to watch the race. Our own superintendent even brought his bike. As our park has been becoming a hotspot for cycling in the area, this was the perfect event to cement its status. Since coming to this park, I have often wondered how to get more Richmonders from diverse backgrounds interested in coming here to serve or to play, especially since I myself could not fully support or be interested in the preservation of Civil War resources. The most obvious solution is to open parks up to more options of use, especially generalized uses like biking and running. From there, more people would be introduced to the park and perhaps inspire even more uses or special events.

Combining the bike race with a park based on military history was an incredible decision that connects to the Centennial mission of bringing younger, more diverse people into parks. And it shows us where more unlikely combinations can lead us.