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Columbia River BMX continues growth, memorial race day

Phil Barlow memorial race is this Saturday


by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Matthew Binam (294) of St. Helens leads Mason Iverson and Jaden Dey (126) in the novice race on July 19. Races of all ages come out to events, as well as use the McCormick Park track during the week.For several years in the late 2000s, the small patch of ground near the entrance of McCormick Park was nothing more than some oddly-shaped bumps in the ground covered in overgrown grass that were largely off-limits to those who didn't dare brave the mystery of what might lie underneath.

Evidence, though, of visitors remained: a small bike trail meandering about the varied jumps and turns of the crumbling St. Helens BMX track, feeding hopes that the track would one day work past the many setbacks and return to its former glory.

That was the picture until 2011, when the track finally procured the rights to continue racing and the facility was unearthed – literally – and Phil and Paul Barlow were able to resume what had become more than a way to grow their business.

The Barlow brothers had purchased Barlow Bikes and Boards in November of 2001, and because of the large number of kids coming in to the bike shop and asking about a BMX track in the area, Phil set to work.

“He was instrumental because he had so many contacts and a persona to get people to do things,” said Paul, who didn't work at the bike shop at the time, but remembers riding bikes with his brother as children.

Phil was able to scrape together a group that logged, blasted and dug their way to build the current track back in 2002, clearing trees, rocks, park debris and brush in the process.

The track ran until 2005, when the old method of simply “shaking hands” with the city no longer worked, and things sat stagnant – and overgrown – until the dust settled in 2011.

But in late September of the same year, the vision for the track and the community of St. Helens was dealt a devastating blow. Phil, on a trip to Thailand to marry his longtime girlfriend, died of a heart attack, leaving the Barlow family with a heartbreaking problem: they didn't have the money to fly his body home.

Friends of the Barlow family and fellow race enthusiasts organized a race a few days later as a fundraiser, and so began the annual Phil Barlow Memorial Race tradition.

The race continued the next summer, this time with proceeds going toward improvements and maintenance at the track, and three years later has become one of the largest events hosted at the track every summer. Columbia River BMX has installed a few small buildings for storage and snacks, and hopes to improve the bleachers onsite if they can raise the money.

Paul, who can be seen on race days grooming the track, making announcements and helping to run the overall show, said it's one of the best chances for community members to remember a kind face that had a major hand in bringing the track to St. Helens.

“Phil had one of those personalities, it was bubbly and he always had something nice to say,” said Paul. “Kids seemed to really like him.”

Racers of widely varied skill levels can pre-register online for races, which will take place at the track in McCormick Park on July 26. Registration at the track is from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., with races beginning shortly afterward.