Ride it and leap!
After years of planning and months of construction, Petawawa’s brand new Civic Centre Bike Park is officially open.
The park, which celebrated its grand opening on Saturday morning, features pump tracks, skills courses and jumps of all sizes to test local cyclists’ mettle and skill, and it is all thanks to contributions from the local community which allowed the town to put the $160,000 park together for less than a third of its value in actual cash expenditure.
“It was totally a community project,” says Petawawa’s parks and recreation manager Kelly Williams. “Large companies down to small companies, local service clubs and community groups have all contributed. This bike park has been built with very little money. Most of the build costs came through donations, fundraising and in-kind contributions more particularly. It’s something the community can really be proud of.”
Williams says the park does more than just provide a place for a small but enthusiastic group to enjoy their favourite pastime; it’s one element of a larger plan the town has been working on for some time.
“Strategically,” he says, “parks and recreation here in Petawawa has been working on improving opportunities for people to get outdoors and be active, and this is one part of many different things that we’re currently doing that encourages kids to get away from the video screens, to come out and improve their skills, both physical and mental, get some exercise, socialize with other kids, and there’s a bit of a back-to-nature component as well.”
The park was designed, and the construction overseen, by Jay Hoots, a biker himself who has designed and built more than 50 parks across North America.
Hoots was first approached by Damien McCarthy of Gearheads bike shop several years ago when the two met at a bike show on the West coast. At the time, McCarthy’s dream (along with that of long-time friend Jeff Jackson) was to have just a couple of basic pump tracks (dirt mountain bike courses that let cyclists ride by ‘pumping’ the bike over mogul-like mounds rather than pedaling), but once the community saw how much use the tracks were getting, McCarthy and Hoots (not to mention the rest of the biking community in town) starting thinking a little bigger.
Even now, McCarthy is looking down the road at what the park could still become.
“We talked about building a couple of pump tracks here about four and a half years ago,“ he says, “with the intent on seeing if we could get support for it. If people used it, maybe it would start to grow a scene. The goal was to grow it into something like this, and maybe something else down the road as well. Maybe from this we’re see different disciplines grow out of it. Maybe it’s a BMX race track, maybe it’s bigger dirt jumps, maybe it’s more of a skills or trials area, and then that’ll be hopefully the next phase. So the way we see it, this was the second or middle phase, but hopefully there’ll be more phases down the road as it progresses.”
As part of the design process, Hoots spent a great deal of time in town, talking to local kids using the tracks to find out what they would like to see in the final product.
“I have a binder full of crayon and marker drawings,” he says, “that they gave me to show what they wanted. This really was a community design.”
In addition to the physical design of the park, Hoots mentored town parks and rec and building staff in the ins and outs of maintenance procedures, producing a hefty manual covering all contingencies from minor jump reshaping (the jumps are made out of dirt, so with each rider that uses them they can be packed or worn down more and more) to the repair or replacement of some of the park’s larger installation elements.
Part of that maintenance commitment involved hiring a dedicated employee to look after the day-to-day needs of the park. It helps that that employee, 18-year-old Cody Durocher, also happens to be an avid biker himself.
“I’ll probably be here every day taking care of it,” he says with a smile that betrays an all-too-uncommon level of job satisfaction, “but I’d probably be here every day anyway.”
For McCarthy, seeing the hordes of riders flooding through the gates into the newly opened facility made all the hard work well worth it.
“How do I even put it into words? It’s surreal, almost. I just counted 95 kids on bikes at one time in the park, not including the people around the park, so it’s pretty exciting to see. We’ve been working on this for three or four years, so to finally see people in here riding it is awesome.”
Ryan Paulsen is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist