Husband and wife team Jim and Jenna Barton of Belvidere have been trying to revitalize Elgin's BMX track since they took over as operators in the fall.
Scoring the upcoming appearance of Donny Robinson, the 2008 BMX Olympic bronze medalist, seems like a great way to do that.
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"We're very excited to announce this," Jenna Barton said. "He'll teach a clinic on July 1 for riders. Basically he'll teach them what an Olympian does. It will be for any age, any proficiency."
The track, built in 1990 and known as The Hill, is the only independently operated portion of the Elgin Sports Complex, which is otherwise managed by the city's parks and recreation department.
About 40 to 50 riders take part in Saturday races throughout the season, which runs April through November, weather permitting. The state championship race in mid-June attracted about 150 riders.
Still, that's a far cry from the crowds of years gone by, Jim Barton said.
"We're trying to get the word out about our track -- and rebuild," he said.
The family's involvement in BMX started with Jim's stepson, Zach, now 21, and later his sons, Noah, 12, and Luke, 9.
At first, Barton said he was "dead set against it," and tried to encourage his boys to get into baseball and football. Noah got his first bike from an uncle, he said.
"Watching him grow through the sport, it grew on me," he said.
These days, the family spends most of its free time at the track, where riders range from little kids to adults in their 60s.
Jim Barton is there most evenings after his job as a material handler at UniCarriers Americas Corporation in Marengo. Jenna Barton does all the office and administrative work, which is "like a full-time job," she said.
The Bartons -- helped by a few volunteer parents -- maintain the 1,300-foot track, from mowing the three-quarter acre site with a push lawn mower, to repairing erosion caused by heavy downpours, they said.
They would love to purchase a new starting gate and replace the current rocky dirt with clay soil, but that would cost thousands of dollars they don't have. Unless some benefactor, or the city of Elgin, steps in, they're a long way away from that, the Bartons said.
"We don't actually get profits in our pocket," Jenna Barton said. "Anything that the track makes, right now we have to turn around and put it into the track. I can't even give myself a gas allowance."
Elgin Recreation & Facilities Superintendent Maria Cumpata said staff members help out if there are "major issues," but there are no funds to contribute to the BMX track.
"We allow them to use the property, we provide water and electricity to the site, but they basically maintain the track and maintain the area around the track," she said.
The city leases the track to the operators at no cost, but requires them to pay $2,500 -- to be used for youth scholarships -- from the proceeds of a yearly fundraiser race, scheduled Aug. 23.
A new five-year lease is expected to be up for consideration by the Elgin City Council sometime soon.
"We don't want to see the track fail," Cumpata said. "It's a unique amenity for Elgin and it's a great family activity."
Jason Lewellyn, whose 11-year-old son Kurtis is a rider, said he's been trying to reach out to local businesses and organizations to find more sponsors for the track.
"It's a sport that keeps the kids so busy," he said. "It warms my heart that my son does something he loves to do."
The Bartons are working hard to make the track better, Lewellyn said.
"They are really family oriented. They deserve a really great chance to do something."
BMX pro rider Olajuwon Davis of St. Charles agreed. "It's the lack of manpower; it's just a family thing," he said.
The Elgin track is downhill, which is uncommon, Davis said.
"It's kind of like a roller coaster," he said. "It's really, really fast."
The Hill is longer and has bigger jumps than most tracks, said 2013 track champion Ricky Terlecki, 12, of Algonquin.
"I just enjoy riding my bike," he said. "It's a real fun sport, you meet really good people out here."
Adding to their financial constraints, the Bartons said, is when teenagers, later caught by Elgin police, stole trophies and bike helmets in May.
The Bartons also are working on paying debts left behind by the previous track operator with sanctioning body USA BMX, they said.
USA BMX senior track director Brad Hallin said the organization is working with the Bartons to get them current on payments.
"There aren't that many downhill BMX tracks any longer, so I think that certainly works to their advantage," Hallin said of the Bartons' prospects for success.
Other tracks across the country have fallen victim to urban sprawl, he said.
"It is always great to see a program that the city has left in their original location for so many years," he said. "It means that there is a great deal of BMX history at that track. Lots of riders have come up through the ranks starting at The Hill."
The July 1 clinic by Robinson costs $50. Regular practice is $5 per day, and races start at $8 on weeknights and $12 on weekends. Additionally, there is a $60 per rider annual fee to USA BMX.
For more information, call (224) 489-1893 or visit the The Hill BMX's Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/the-Hill-BMX/276740132920.