Feature Article - October 2015
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Attracting Teens, Reducing Trouble

Skateparks & Bike Parks Engage Hard-to-Reach Demographics & Improve Communities

By Chris Gelbach

"It's important to have a good operations and management plan," de Vall said. "That is the key to the puzzle that makes these facilities endure. A natural-surface environment is very different than a skatepark. We have a lot of steep slopes, a lot of landscaping, a real mix of different users."

Like skateparks, bike parks for mountain biking, BMX and even cyclocross are growing in popularity.

De Vall recommends seeking out a bike park contractor that's a member of the Professional Trail Builders Association when creating such a facility. But he also recommends including details about the operations, management and programming of the park in requests for proposals as part of the capital expenditure plan. "That way, when it comes time for the mayor to snip the ribbon, everyone involved knows that our collective brand and our collective efforts will be maintained appropriately," de Vall said.

At Boulder's Valmont Bike Park, ongoing efforts to maintain the acclaimed park include eight employees who regularly ride and inspect the trails. The park is free to the public. But Skyler Beck, Valmont park manager, estimates that the park is able to recoup about 20 percent of the cost to maintain the facility through events and programs. These include weekly summer camps for kids, partnerships with clubs that practice and conduct clinics at the park, a weekly race series produced with the University of Colorado, and larger race events that draw competitors from around the world.

"We quantify attendance as much as we can, and we're working to increase our revenues through sponsorships and other means besides events and programs," Beck said. The park also contributes to Boulder's value as a tourist destination and as a local and regional attraction, benefits that are harder to quantify. "I meet people here all of the time from all over the country," Beck said. "It definitely helps preserve Boulder's identity as a bike-friendly city."

In addition to elements serving the BMX, mountain bike and cyclocross disciplines, the park also features amenities such as picnic shelters, a parking lot, a playground, disc golf course, dog park and a sports field. While these were all built in Valmont's case as part of the bike park project, de Vall noted that park districts can enjoy tremendous savings by placing a bike park in an underutilized park already boasting amenities like parking and restrooms.

"Often with our greenfield projects, 75 percent of the project budget goes into the infrastructure and what's left is a small amount for the actual amenity," de Vall said. In communities without a strongly established bike culture like Boulder's, starting out small in an existing park can also help gauge community interest in a larger facility.

By embracing natural elements and creating spaces that appeal to users and onlookers alike, skateparks and bike parks can add value to their communities.

In some cases, bike parks can also cut costs by taking advantage of existing natural terrain, as Mesa Parks and Recreation did for its Desert Trails Bike Park. That park, which opened in November 2014, was built on a plot of unused city-owned desert land. The park features a series of trails for mountain and BMX bikers of different levels as well as a pump track, a kids' skills track, two ramadas, restroom facilities and a parking lot.

"I think that what benefited us the most was that we were able to work with the existing natural desert vegetation," said Lily King-Cisneros, public information officer for Mesa Parks and Recreation. "We didn't have to pull up bushes or plow over things. We worked within the general landscape that we had."

In addition to providing plenty of biking opportunities for novices, the park is also encircled by a walking trail. "So if you're not a biker, you can still enjoy the park and take advantage of the scenery," King-Cisneros said. The use of existing terrain and earth tones in the structures themselves has successfully created a natural feel that won the park a Natural Resources Award for the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association.

Transforming Landscapes, Changing Lives

By embracing natural elements and creating spaces that appeal to users and onlookers alike, skateparks and bike parks, when done right, can add value to their communities. They can also foster inclusion by giving kids who skate and bike the opportunity to take on a unique leadership role in advocating for and maintaining these facilities.

"Skaters are getting tickets and being kicked out of spaces they want to be in. They're often relegated by the local community as second-class citizens, treated as pariahs," Whitley said. "And here they are taking the initiative to attend a city council meeting and presenting on what they need to remain an integrated part of the community. And that's pretty profound when you stop and think about it. This is recreation, but it's also more meaningful than that."