Kids in the Eastlake and Capitol Hill neighborhoods of Seattle didn’t have a lot of fun places to ride bikes. Then the folks from the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance built the city’s first urban mountain bike skills park in the I-5 Colonnade Park. Kids in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan were in a similar situation until a couple of local mountain bike clubs — Concerned Long Island Mountain Bicyclists and the New York City Mountain Bike Association — worked with the city to help resurrect the city’s derelict Highbridge Park with several miles of mountain bike trail and a skills park. And soon, kids in southwest Durham who also have a dearth of places to ride will have some off-road trail and a pump track, thanks to a joint effort between the city and the Triangle Off-Road Cyclists.
“I think it’s about to happen,” says Paul Elliot, the bike club’s president.
These emerging inner-city pockets of off-road cycling are part of the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s Gateway Trails program. Mountain bike trail networks are typically located in mountainous regions or in suburban areas where, increasingly, more land is being set aside for recreation. In the Triangle, for instance, the newest trail network is going in at Briar Chapel, an emerging planned community south of Chapel Hill. Other popular venues include Harris Lake County Park, in rural Wake County; the Beaverdam area of Falls Lake State Recreation Area, which is nearly in Granville County, Carolina North on the northwest side of Chapel Hill; and Little River Regional Park on the Durham/Orange county line. The only venue that’s remotely urban is at Lake Crabtree County Park in Morrisville.
Getting to these outlying trails is hard enough for kids whose parents have the time to drive them a half-hour into the hinterlands, let alone a car to get them there and the money for a mountain bike suitable for these more advanced trails. Just about any bike will do on the trails planned at Solite Park.
“We’ll have a short segment of natural surface trail,” says Elliot. The big draw, though, will be a pump track. A pump track is a tight trail network with repeated humps and bermed turns. The idea is build sufficient momentum going in to the track that you needn’t pedal to keep rolling, you simply flex your knees and rock your body to capitalize on the ups and downs. (Watch this video and it will make sense.)
The pump track concept is relatively new; there’s only one other pump track in the area, at Lake Crabtree. The feature has proven especially popular with riders 25 and younger. Andrea Hundredmark, director of Trips for Kids Triangle believes the park will fill a vital role for neighborhood kids.
“This free, public cycling facility will provide kids with an active, outdoor, safe alternative during the precarious after-school hours,” says Hundredmark.
The facility will be free to taxpayers. TORC received a $7,000 grant from REI and another $5,000 from Trips for Kids to build the trail. Trips for Kids is an international non-profit that aims to get at-risk kids on bikes, specifically mountain bikes.
Elliot believes the trail will attract more than just kids.
“It’s right along the [American] Tobacco Trail,” he says. “It’ll give people a chance to get off a paved greenway and try out a natural surface trail.” That innocent exposure (on the flat, beginner-level natural surface trail) may make some people realize mountain biking isn’t necessarily the gonzo thrill sport depicted in the media. (Some of the media.)
IMBA launched its Gateway Trails program in 2007. Mark Eller, the association’s communications manager, says they don’t know exactly how many of the so-called “pocket parks” have been built as a result (“dozens,” he speculates), “but anecdotally we’ve gotten positive comments from riders, from land managers and park managers. It’s a great way to add a facility without a big expense.”
Elliot says construction at Solite Park could begin as soon as next month. That likely would mean an opening this spring.
Photo: The trail at Seattle’s 7.5-acre I-5 Colonnade Park is built under an interstate highway.