February 10, 2014

by Zoe Kircos, PeopleForBikes grants manager

This is the story of a bunch of people who love to ride bikes, a little plot of land, a good idea, and a whole bunch of passion.

The way I heard it, a few mountain bikers in Philadelphia had been talking for years?years!?about building a pumptrack on a vacant lot somewhere in the city. A pumptrack is a small course of dirt sculpted into bumps, jumps, berms, and corners. Instead of pedaling, riders use gravity and a pumping motion to maneuver the bike around the track. Pumptracks are great for three reasons: they can be built on a small parcel of land (I know a guy who has one in his backyard), they are pretty cheap to construct (did I mention they are made out of dirt?), and they are super fun.

The idea, sadly, languished until the right ingredients came together at the right time. One person stepped up to design the facility. Another said she would raise the money. They brought the idea to the city, which was merging its Parks Department and its Recreation Department under new leadership. Eager to partner on a demonstration project that would get kids using city parks, the new department agreed to let them use city land and plan programming around the facility. The group found a fiscal sponsor. They applied for, and won, a PeopleForBikes grant. Things were looking good.

Now, no story can proceed from start to finish without bumps or blemishes. Life just doesn’t work that way. And for every two steps the Philly Pumptrack took, it seemed they moved back one. They struggled to find the right location. New rules, regulations, assessments, and evaluations popped up at every turn. They were delayed, and delayed again.

Volunteers lay the foundation for the pumptrack on the initial build day in November 2013.

But for every frustration (or maybe two), there was a win. They needed a shipping container for storage, and found a company to donate one. They needed some technical help with soil and erosion plans, and found a trail-friendly engineer to do the work pro bono. Specialized and Fuji donated bikes. The ShopRite Foundation awarded a grant to help with fencing.

I spoke with Heidi Grunwald, the project leader, on the first Community Build Day in November. ?We started this project more than three years ago and we?ve encountered a lot of challenges but we?ve received a lot of help, too,? she said.
?It’s about networking and asking nicely. We?re out here working and a few people from the neighborhood came by and started shoveling dirt with us. The buzz is incredible, from neighbors, from parents. We can’t wait to get the kids and families out here riding.?

Project leader Heidi Grunwald (right) on the build day.

The grand opening is scheduled for May, but long-term plans are still percolating. The group wants to bring in a muralist, harvest rainwater on the storage shed, possibly develop an environmental stewardship program. The Parks and Rec Department is looking at another location for a second pumptrack.

We?re keeping our fingers crossed for a happy ending to this story. I think we?ll get it. Which makes me wonder, what can a bunch of people who love to ride bikes, a good idea, and whole bunch of passion do in your community?

To learn more about the Philly Pumptrack and how you can support it, visit the project’s website.

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