Charlie Fetzer, owner of Lakeshore Bicycles, is part of a group trying to revive the Jacksonville Velodrome located in the woods off Beaver Street (14287 W. Beaver) built in 1988 but never opened. The State owns the site and the City manages it.
A successful lawyer who wanted to help veterans struggling with addiction to find a healthier way of life built a velodrome on his property off of West Beaver Street. A velodrome is a bike racing track with banked curves. In 1988, the 300-meter Jacksonville Wally McGregor Velodrome was originally known as the Brandy Branch Bicycle Track. Now overgrown and crumbling, Charlie Fetzer, the owner of Lakeshore Bicycles, is leading the way to reviving the track.
“Wally McGregor was the first local lawyer to win a million in a slip-and-fall lawsuit. He was a real hard driven kind of guy. Don’t do something small, do it really big he would say,” Fetzer says. McGregor was a recovering alcoholic and a Korean Air Force veteran of World War II, and knew the hardship of returning to life after war. He wanted to provide a place for fellow veterans to heal through exercise and community. Unfortunately, soon after the track opened, he was diagnosed with leukemia and died a month later in 1989. The property changed hands, and the State finally bought it in 2006.
“When the state came in, there were a couple mobile homes and buildings left in the back from prior owners, and they came in and they tore those down,” Fetzer says. “I would go out there and watch them just about every day, and watch them tear all those buildings down not far from the track. I thought, oh my god, they don’t even know there’s a velodrome there.” One day he saw the bulldozer on the track. It was a scary moment for Fetzer. “But then they went out there, and I saw them with flat headed shovels carefully taking the dirt off the track. Not only did they know it was there, but they knew it was a valuable thing.” Once the track was cleared, people took notice. “The next thing I knew, everybody is out there riding again,” Fetzer says. Eventually, the State began blocking the track with logs to keep people from riding on it. It didn’t stop local cyclists. “People would push the logs off and continue to use it,” Fetzer says. “They finally put up gates and fences to keep everybody out.”
Fetzer stands at one of the mid-points of both sides of the track where a section of the track was removed and a barricade placed to discourage bicyclists from using the track.
A velodrome can be a youth oriented facility and an asset to the community. Fetzer is passionate about teaching kids about cycling, safety and health. The velodrome off Beaver Street is built for recreational use. “It’s not real banked like you see in the Olympics. This is where kids would learn to do the sport. Once they have the skill, they can do it anywhere in the world,” he says. A Jacksonville velodrome has the potential to become a venue for all ages to cycle, race, train and educate.
Aerial view of the Jacksonville Velodrome.
“You feel different every time you get out there. A bicycle is a learning machine, to go out and explore, see and feel and take in how things are,” says Fetzer.
Why Do We Need a Velodrome?
Jacksonville has a notorious reputation for biking safety and the numbers show it. According to the Alliance for Biking and Walking’s 2016 Benchmarking Report, Jacksonville remains as the city with most bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities in the nation. Bicyclist fatalities per 10,000 bicycling commuters top every city measured. The report can be downloaded at bikewalkalliance.org/resources/benchmarking.
Want to get involved and get this project off the ground?
Contact Charlie Fetzer directly at 904.716.7364 or send a message through their Facebook page www.facebook.com/JacksonvilleVelodrome.
One of the banked curves of the track has been almost lost to the native growth of the area.