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Will county be an Olympic winner?

Push is on to have events here

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published April 17, 2007, 3:55 p.m.) Click here for audio report

Since the United States Olympic Committee announced Saturday that Chicago was the country's nomination to host the Summer 2016 games, it has been pedal to the metal in Walworth County.

Officials here are gearing to get on Chicago's radar screen to host mountain biking events if the Windy City beats out international competition to host the games that includes Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Rome, Tokyo and Prauge, Czech Republic.

A lot has to happen before the International Olympic Committee selects a host city, likely in October 2009.

First and foremost is Walworth County getting on Chicago's list of possible venue locations.

The John Muir bike trails in the southern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, off County H, are the primary focus right now, said Fred Burkhardt, executive director of the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance.

"Chicago purportedly got the bid because of its compact size (of event location) and how far people will have to go," Burkhardt said. "Introducing the Kettle Moraine is a little bit more than compact. On the other hand, we clearly have a world-class venue that may outweigh it."

Another possible location is Alpine Valley near East Troy, a ski resort that has held state and national mountain biking events in the past.

Burkhardt has put together a seven-member steering committee to sway Chicago interest in the local sites. Making a formal pitch will come soon as Chicago will continue putting its bid package together for a Sept. 15 decision when the IOC decides which applicant cities are finalists.

"When you're talking terrain-specific activities, you have to look at where is the terrain," Burkhardt said. "If you're going to have a world-level competition are you going to have it on premier terrain or a not premier terrain? That is the question Chicago is going to have to answer. We believe having it at the Kettle Moraine would be a huge asset to Chicago. That's what we're putting our best foot forward with."

About the site

The John Muir trails are a series of five different trails of varying degrees of difficulty, said Mike Bettinger, owner of the nearby Backyard Bike Shop in LaGrange.

The glacial-formed "kettles" allow trails that flow from hill to hill and intermix flat areas to make rides fun, Bettinger said. Challenges include narrow areas, tight turns, rocks, logs and more. There are about 20 miles total.

"It's an internationally recognized trail," he said. Many of his bike shop customers visit Chicago on business but head to the John Muir trail to experience it for themselves.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is aware of the interest in the trail system as a possible Olympic site but has made no preparations for it.

"What we said from the beginning is we would entertain the idea and consider it, but we need to know more details about what facilities are needed," said Paul Sandgren, forest superintendent for the Kettle Moraine Southern Unit. "We'll make a decision after that."

Any changes to the trail system would need to fall within the park's master plan or only deviate slightly from it.

"The question we need to have answered is, is the design of our current trail adequate?" Sandgren said. "If not, how much change is required? We don't yet know what standards they have for a mountain biking venue for the Olympics."

Burkhardt said he is still exploring how the Olympics would use a trail in terms of numbers of competitors and spectators.

An Olympics in Chicago, with or without an event in Walworth County, would mean huge benefits to the region, Burkhardt said. He hasn't calculated figures yet, but saw hotels filling up fast and infrastructure improvements to local U.S. highways and rail lines to allow easier travel to the heart of the games in downtown Chicago.

"All of the studies we've reviewed on similar sized events has been very dramatic," he said. "We're talking about the ability to accelerate the development of infrastructure. And from a long-term business frame of reference, it's very beneficial.

"There will be people visiting Walworth County regardless. Walworth County is within a 90- to 100-mile radius of Chicago. Walworth County will be impacted. The question is at what level and in what role."


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