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On The Rise: Cities respond to increasing demand for mountain bike parks | Photos
Editor's note: This is the first story of two-part series on the rising popularity of mountain biking in Puget Sound and what it means for the community.
Kicked out of one of the military’s most elite training programs, Lance Heim was at the lowest point in his life when he discovered mountain biking.
He was only a few months away from finishing a pipeline of pararescue airmen training – over three years of sailing with Navy SEALS, flying with the Army Airborne and specialized rescue courses – when he made the biggest mistake of his life.
Tempted by too much down time, he tried cocaine with a friend.
Unwilling to lie, he was kicked from the program. Too ashamed to go home, he took a job selling mountain bikes in New Mexico.
He had never ridden before, so he borrowed a bike from the shop. The physical challenge and adrenaline rush were exactly what he needed, he said.
When depression gripped him, he turned to the trails.
“It’s an escape,” Heim said, who is among thousands in Puget Sound who have discovered the growing sport.
No longer a fringe activity, it has been embraced by outdoorsmen, families and even little kids riding for the first time. The growing community is now starting to make demands on local government to provide places to ride.
Issaquah and Redmond are already responding with plans for small skills parks. Issaquah also formed the Mountain Bike Task Force to figure out how the city might better attract the growing community.
Redmond’s parks planner Carolyn Hope skirts waist-deep pits in the woods behind the city’s Hartman Park, a sign that teens have been building rogue tracks on the site for years.
Shoddy little dirt mounds form the semblance of a pump track, a loop of hills bikers can ride without pedaling.
Hope points out a crumbling jump that threatens to collapse.
At first the city tried knocking them down, but the teens persisted.
“People are just itching to find a place to do this riding,” Hope said.
So two years ago Redmond Mayor John Marchione pushed the city to turn 2.5 acres of woods into a formalized bike park.
About 70 people showed up to an onsite meeting to discuss the idea - half were teens on bikes.
The demand then was clear, Hope said. People wanted a place to ride.
Redmond’s council set aside $100,000 for the park. About $65,000 has been spent on planning and permits.
However, the city’s first work party was canceled this June while it opened the project up for appeals and neighbors took the opportunity to voice their concerns. Their appeal could halt plans for months.
“It’s so peaceful as is,” said neighbor Ty Watanabe, who would rather the land stay as it is, amateur jumps and all.
Formalized mountain bike parks could draw unwanted attention to the neighborhood, he said, perhaps attracting the same crowd and inappropriate behavior as skate parks.
Hope, who worked with teens to design the park, disagreed.
“A lot of it is that they don’t want it in their backyard,” she said.
The other big issue is the loss of trees. Today, homes that surround the park have a nice view of the forest, Hope said. The city would have to take down about 30 trees because about 26 of them are dead or diseased and would pose a safety hazard.
If the park is built, it would expand on the trails that already exist, adding professional jumps built by volunteers. A new advanced track would give riders a challenge, and a pump track would cater to beginners.
A pedestrian path would circle the park, making it a nice place for neighbors to walk, Hope said, as she tromped through dead foliage and branches that would give way to the new trail.
Useless made useful
Over in Seattle, Heim mounts a customized bike with gold shocks, his eyes smiling behind thick goggles, a black helmet on his head. Jumps are an obvious favorite, and there are plenty at The Colonnade, a bike park that sits under Interstate 5.
He flies by a column that holds up the freeway and plows up a jump, gaining a couple feet of air before thumping back down into the powdery dirt.
Like many in the mountain bike community, Heim helped build the park a couple years ago through the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance.
Before the large-scale skills park opened, the land was a center for homeless camps and drug deals. It was useless to the public.
Like the Colonnade, Issaquah is planning a mountain bike skills park on an otherwise unusable piece of land, beneath the power lines that run alongside Central Park in the Highlands.
The smaller-scale skills park would connect a network of popular biking trails that run along Grand Ridge and up north to Duthie Hill.
The demand on Issaquah to provide places to mountain bike is perhaps even greater than in Redmond.
“I love mountain biking,” said Issaquah’s 15-year-old Max Prendergast, while sitting on his bike beside some friends at Duthie Hill. “It gets you off the couch.”
He also likes that it’s an unstructured sport, and that you can do it in nature. He would use a skills park in Issaquah, he said.
Building the Grand Ridge park is one of the council’s goals for 2012. The city has already set aside about $110,000 for construction, said spokesperson Autumn Monahan.
The mountain bike alliance drew up concept plans for the park, and Port Blakely Communities has cleared the land. The only thing holding back construction is a formal recommendation from the Mountain Bike Task Force, which will undoubtedly favor building the park, said John Traeger, a City Council member and avid mountain biker.
People want a place to ride, said Paul Winterstein, who is in position to replace Traeger on council in 2012. “Mountain biking in Issaquah is only second to dogs and parks.”
Mountain biking helped Lance Heim through one of the roughest parts of his life. BY CELESTE GRACEY, The Issaquah Reporter
Lance Heim works a boardwalk at the Colonnade Mountain Bike Skills Park in Seattle. The park was built on land beneath Interestate 5, which was once the center of homeless camps and drug activity. BY CELESTE GRACEY, The Issaquah Reporter
Lance Heim navigates down a rocky pathway at The Colonnade in Seattle. BY CELESTE GRACEY, The Issaquah Reporter