Talk about creating potential from paltry: What was once an unused tract of dirt and grass beside and behind Seventh Mountain Resort's tennis courts is now a dynamic bike park playground. Ever since it was created nearly a month ago it has attracted riders of all skill levels, from gapers to certified huckers and ages from 6- to 60-year-olds.
"The intent was to give something the people here [in Bend] and the local neighborhood could come play on," says Woody Keen, a professional trail builder and part-time Bend resident. Earlier this year, Keen, a condo owner at Seventh Mountain Resort, sold his trail building company, Trail Dynamics. He had spent the previous several years flying around the country to consult and help bike parks and trail systems in urban areas, just like the ones at Seventh Mountain Resort. Keen became inspired to build such a park last summer after witnessing hordes of kids riding around his neighborhood with no central hub or attractive feature to explore.
"Why don't we give them a dirt place to go ride?," Keen recalls thinking. So he did just that. (What have you done for the neighborhood lately, huh?) Keen received help from local professional trail riders Kirt and Lindsey Voreis and, over the course of a week, created dirt jumps, rollers and wooden built features that snake around the parcel. Even though the lot occupies less than an acre it offers an extraordinary amount of challenges—not surprising given the pedigree of its creators.
For decades Kirt Voreis was one of the top downhill and all-mountain riders in the country. He has stood atop numerous national and international podiums and is now considered a grand ambassador of the sport. His wife, Lindsey, also is a ripper who now values giving back more than her own personal goals. She leads all-women mountain biking clinics (called All Ride) and often coaches for Bend Endurance Academy.
The Voreises gave hours of their time and expertise to the new bike park, which debuted at last month's Subaru of Bend Outside Games. Together, they offered clinics on everything from jumping to riding berms. And when they weren't coaching, they were riding with whoever was there. Today, the park remains open not just to Seventh Mountain Resort owners and guests, but to the larger community.
Keen thinks this sort of accessible play is crucial for raising a healthy, happy population. And when overanxious parents question the idea of allowing kids unfettered access to 4-foot-high tabletop jumps, log rides, rock gardens and raised wooden features, Keen has a smart answer at the ready.
"What's the risk of not getting kids to go ride their bicycles?," Keen asks, rhetorically. "It's called obesity."
Keen goes on to explain that in-town bike parks are the fastest-growing type of parks in America. Trails are great, he says, but less so for 14-year-olds who can't drive to trailheads and who lack the endurance to ride there and then get a trail ride in. Compared with golf courses, public bike parks are low-cost and aren't as susceptible to the vagaries of the economy. Centrally located bike parks are accessible, healthy alternatives that can even act as social mixers as they draw users from varying backgrounds and income levels.
Keen highlights parks in Boone, N.C.; Tallahassee, Fla; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and, most famously, Boulder's Valmont Bike Park, which includes dirt jumps, a pump trackand dual slalom course and which recently earned the rights to host the 2014 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships, as success stories.
Keen was able to move forward with his Bend bike park in part because he had such a willing partner in Seventh Mountain Resort, which recently rebranded itself as the resort for adventure travelers. The Century Drive retreat offers kids camps, called Cascade Kids Eco Challenge Camp (they're completely booked through summer), as well as activities for adults. Thanks to clever marketing, and amenities like rafting and on-site trails, bikes are now more prevalent than tennis racquets.
"I've been working on this [bike park] for six years," says Chris Smith, Seventh Mountain Resort recreation manager. "But there are some many layers of ownership. It was hard to get everyone on the same page. Keen has a real passion for trail development and was instrumental in selling this idea to the board."
And sell he did. The bike park was an instant hit. So Keen and others are already talking about expanding. Resort officials hope to build more on-site trails, too. Doing so would connect riders to nearby trails like C.O.D. and the soon-to-be-built Forest Service welcome center just up the road from the resort. But mostly Keen is simply excited to get more people riding, and riding together. He hopes Bend Park and recreation District will follow his lead and build a larger, centrally located and public park.
"They [bike parks] really help to build the community," Keen adds, before relaying a touching scene from the Subaru of Bend Outside Games in which professional mountain biker Kirt Voreis was riding alongside a pint-sized adventurer astride her little pink bike.
"It's just like on a golf course where you'll see a golf pro out there hitting balls with 6 year-olds," jokes Keen. "Oh wait—that never happened."