Sisters and Prineville — Bike Parks in the Making
By Chad Cheeney
Mountain bike parks are a great addition to any urban center; kids of all ages can ride around for hours.
It’s a classic saying — a modern day middle-aged cyclist exclaims something like, “I wish I could have had that opportunity when I was a kid.” You say this at a bike park, a magical looking plot of land with manmade features, much like a skate park but with dirt. Your kid or friend is blowing your mind and riding all over humps and bumps, then a middle school-aged child approaches the jump you thought maybe you’d hit if you had done this when you were younger, with full grin. You check out the technologically amazing machine between your legs and think how incredible this sport is these days. A few well-sculpted dirt lines over, a teen looking “kid posse” is watching their shredder friend fly through the air and clear the gap. You wait a few moments and then take a pedal stroke; you feel like a kid again.
It seems like every bike-centric town these days has a community bike park. A little swatch of land in or near town that has dirt berms, rollers, bumps, jumps, logs rocks … even little bridges, and concrete BMX/skate park add-ons, most with a sign that explains the rules. Fenced or open to passersby, these childhood dream makers seem like impossibility in today’s world of lawsuits and litigations. But they are popping up all over.
Bike parks attract riders of all levels, including little push-bikers.
The underlining beauty of the modern day bike park is community strength. It is the heart and soul of the townspeople that bring these dirt piles to life: taking the time to write grants, working with landowners and public officials, attending city council meetings, researching the numerous professional bike park builders and wooing potential donors for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s a lot of work and an impressive modern feat for cyclists who historically have had an individualistic approach to paving their way by bike. Cyclists are teaming up and heading not to the hills, but into the urban areas.
A fast-paced society coupled with urban growth has pushed out most of the classic unofficial skills or dirt jump parks. And with more and more youths buying well-built and capable all-terrain bikes, there is a growing need to know how to develop proper skills to take on the evolving trail networks. The sport is progressing, and along with the increasing number of mountain bikers in the U.S., there is a need for in-town skill building features common to the classic neighborhood jumps and pump tracks — might as well have a safe, progressive skill building area nearby to keep the social trails and jumps at bay. There are enough success stories out there to think, “Why can’t our town do it?”
It’s not just kids who are smiling up and down at all the bike parks, it’s also families, grandparents with push-bikers in tow, junior development cycling programs, dirt jump groms, midlife diehards, collegiate cyclists, and the curious passersby.
Yes, there still are the illegal, underground dirt jump spots, but this is a new thing in the past decade and it’s catching the eyes of the general public. Skills parks for all levels and all ages, backed by the community — and it seems every cycling-hip town across the U.S. is doing it.
In central Oregon, new bike park plans have recently sprung up in two small towns. Both Sisters, a sleepy cowboy town at the foot of Mackenzie Pass, and Prineville, a real active cowboy town at the base of the Ochoco Mountains, have both rallied the locals and put forth plans to secure in-town properties and build professional quality bike parks for the community’s cyclists to enjoy.
The Prineville Bike Park is to be adjacent to the Ochoco Creek Park in town and is in the initial planning stage. With help from Central Oregon Trail Alliance’s Crook County Chapter, the local committee, an estimated 20,000 dollars has already been committed to the project. No professional contractor has been hired yet, but they are currently looking over the numerous options available. The plan calls for community resources to compliment the pro crews, and locals have lined up to volunteer machinery and labor when the time comes.
The one and a half acre park cost is estimated to be over 100,000 dollars and they are looking to fundraisers, grants and more in-kind and financial donations before raising the shovel. The projected breaking ground date is June 2015 and it’s still unclear if that will be a reality. Local shop owner James Good of Good Bike Co. remains optimistic that the town will rally and make this dream come true. He predicts that the park will be a great addition to the local cycling community and will double, if not triple, the amount of locals that currently get out and ride the skate parks and new in-town trail areas like the recently developed Lower 66 trails.
In Sisters, it’s the Sisters Parks and Recreation Department that is lending a big hand to develop Bike Park 242, as it is to be named. Located right outside the Parks and Recreation headquarters, adjacent to the Sisters High School property and down the road from the middle school, the one-acre location is ideal for the town’s school children; it is literally at their doorstep and next to the track and football fields.
Also less than a mile from town is the popular Peterson Ridge trail network. Local cycling advocates Joel Palanuk, who runs the Sisters Stampede, a local cross-country race held on Memorial Day, and Blazin Saddles owner Casey Meudt have been the rally point for the community, and along with input from Central Oregon Trail Alliance’s long time trail builder Woody Keen, the threesome has done great work to bring this project to life.
Palanuk states, “This vision is one we’ve been trying to implement for two years, and have exhausted nearly every option before coming to a synergy between COTA (Central Oregon Trail Alliance), and SPRD (Sisters Parks and Recreation District). In true Sisters, Oregon fashion, the community has rallied, and an amazing effort has been put forth into what is sure to become a premier Oregon Bike Park.”
Bike Park 242 has a completion date goal of fall 2015 and has had professional park builder Steve Wentz of Momentum Trail Concepts out to visit the site, but no official word on how much has been raised or who will bring shovel to dirt. Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain: the community wants this project to succeed.
As it is common with most community bike park projects, they almost never come to fruition as quickly as planned. But that’s not to say they often or ever fall through. Bikers are a feisty bunch and they make things happen. The planning process takes shape rather quickly with a handful of local interest groups, hundreds of meeting hours, and spreading the word with small fundraisers and community events. But it is the behind the scenes grant writing and working with local land managers and city officials that takes the real efforts. Committee members work months to secure one thing only to have it fall through and then reroute the plan, but when the berms and bumps are finally built, all is usually forgotten and fun is to be had for generations.