"Posted: Aug. 11, 2010
Walking through a maze of shrubbery, trees, tires, paint cans and logs the size of wheelbarrows, it was hard to imagine that people raced bicycles there.
"I cannot believe that this has been abandoned in time," said Tom Nardone, founder of the Mower Gang. The small group of volunteers was standing on the Dorais Velodrome in northeast Detroit on Friday. The motto on their shirts said it all, "Winning Detroit's Other Turf War."
Nardone, looking for volunteer work that was fun, started the Mower Gang to revive unkempt public land in Detroit. This was the group's first project.
The goal at the velodrome was simple: clean up the track at Outer Drive and Mound. But the task seemed daunting. Twenty-some years of abandonment had created a patchwork of flora that covered most of the concrete. With donated power tools, the team set to work under a relentless sun.
Slowly but surely, the banked oval began to resemble its former self. More volunteers showed up, many meeting for the first time. Bicycles began to appear at the track's edge and scattered under infield trees. By late afternoon, the velodrome was silent as the Mower Gang reaped its reward.
"I'm super impressed with what they've done in just a day," said Jon Hughes, owner of Downtown Ferndale Bike Shop. His grandfather helped build the velodrome in 1969 and it was the first track that he rode as a child. He remembers when it bore national and world champions. Now, with a smile on his face, Hughes was riding the oval once again. The track was ridable for the first time in years. Large cracks made it more suitable for mountain bikes than fine-tuned racing bikes, but this day was about celebrating a forgotten Detroit relic and encouraging public use.
"It's really not about getting some 45-year-old guy a better place to ride his bike," said Nardone, reflecting on the Mower Gang's mission.
"It's more about getting 10-, 12-, 13-year-old kids a better place to spend an afternoon."
The group's next project: Aug. 28 at Riverside Park, at the foot of West Grand Boulevard."