Outdoors: Moving bodies

If local soccer coach Randy Bassham has anything to say about it, it just might get easier to find a safe place to play ball, learn trapeze or even race your bike. He’s rallying the masses to help realize his big dream: a multisport complex near Weaverville.

Bassham calls it a multipurpose athletic and community complex (MPAC for short), and he believes there’s a desperate need for such a facility locally. The founder and executive director of the N.C. Mountain Area Youth Soccer Association, Bassham envisions a home for just about any kind of recreational group, surrounded by residential communities and linked to downtown Weaverville by a greenway.

To date, nearly 60 different organizations have shown interest in using the space and/or helping create it, says Bassham. Accordingly, his ambitious plan includes something for everyone: a therapeutic pool; a music room and performance space; a fitness gym; a climbing wall; racquetball courts; full-size multiuse fields; a velodrome and both indoor and outdoor pedestrian tracks. Local restaurants, massage-therapy clinics and retail stores have also shown interest in jumping on board, Bassham reports.

Liberty Bicycles co-owner Claudia Nix is particularly jazzed about the idea. “I would like to see the possibility for changing transportation,” says Nix, a longtime local advocate for greenways. “We need to make our community accessible without having to have lots of people driving.”

And Eric Bryan, a spokesperson for the Asheville Rugby Football Club who also serves on MPAC’s board, says such a community-driven facility would enable teams, players and groups like his to flourish. “It’s really hard to secure athletes when the team is moving around a lot,” he says.

The rugby club, notes Bryan, may be the oldest men’s athletic group in town: Formed in 1983, it was one of the first to help revive Memorial Stadium. Since then, however, the club has moved from field to field in search of a more appropriate home. The Azalea Park soccer fields were intended to be suitable for rugby, but the AstroTurf is tough to fall down on, making them impractical for the rough-and-tumble sport, says Bryan. Here in the mountains, he adds, “It’s hard to find a flat place to run around on. It just would be really nice for our team to have a place to call home; this is where we play. In fact, it would be a nice thing for a lot of people. A place to throw a Frisbee, run with the dog—whatever.”

Bassham’s lofty—and costly—vision could be realized in stages, he says. Once a site is acquired—perhaps in the floodplain, where land is cheaper—both AstroTurf and dirt fields could be installed, giving many local teams a home while fundraising continues.

The actual construction could come later, providing such amenities as a real wooden velodrome with steep sides and spectator seating. Already, cyclists from far and wide come to Western North Carolina to train and enjoy the gorgeous terrain, challenging hills and supportive bike community. Events at the popular track at Carrier Park in West Asheville, dubbed “The Mellowdrome” because it’s so flat, have drawn cyclists from as far as Maryland and Florida. Just imagine what a real velodrome would bring.

With such a development in mind, the Waynesville-based Carolina Track Cycling Association has also partnered with MPAC, Bassham reports.

Another board member, Christine Aiken, has created a local circus subculture through Asheville Aerial Arts, which trains aerial artists and performs at parties and events. So many people have dreamed of flying the trapeze or slinging around in hanging silks that the troupe now boasts about 35 members, and auditions attract folks from around the country, Aiken reports.

There are few facilities in the country where aerial-arts schools can train and perform, she says. For now, her group works at Hahn’s Gymnastics in south Asheville. Aerialists require professional riggers, tall ceilings and heavy-duty equipment that can hold a person while falling and swinging. “More than 10 feet is considered a mortal fall,” notes Aiken, adding, “Insurance is crazy for classes.”

That’s why having a shared facility, which would also generate income from performances, could help keep her company soaring. “We are the missing link in the Southeast,” Aiken proclaims. “If we had a facility, we could host a [national] conference, which now happens each year in Denver.”

Many of the diverse groups Bassham is trying to include under MPAC’s umbrella bring their own specific needs to the table. And outdoor recreation, he notes, is a key part of what has made Western North Carolina a vacation destination and what induces many people to move here. To support that, Bassham aims to create a more conducive community.

“MPAC would be a catalyst for so much,” says Aiken. “This would be a city of people who want to move their bodies.”

For more information, visit www.ncmaysa.com/mpac.html.

[Bettina Freese lives and bikes in Asheville.]

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About Margaret Williams
Managing Editor Margaret Williams has been at Xpress since 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987.

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