Chicago's First Official Bike Park | Bleader

Chicago's First Official Bike Park



The Garden Dirt Jam
  • The Garden Dirt Jam
Chicago's first bike park, the Garden (3400 N. Rockwell), celebrated its grand opening Sat 7/31 with "Settin' Down Roots: The Garden Dirt Jam." About 200 BMX and mountain bikers and spectators came out to check out the park's three lines of jumps and its pump track for beginners. The Garden's one of the few forested areas within city limits, and according to the founders, the only place suitable for freeriding, an increasingly popular type of mountain biking that incorporates BMX tricks.

Freeriders have been using the five-acre stretch of woods in Clark Park for more than a decade, carving pits and hills out of the ground to make jumps. Since the closing of Riverview Park in 1967, the land has has not been developed or maintained, and it had accumulated a lot of trash by the time local kids began riding there in the 1990s. “They discovered the woods,” says Bill Donahue, whose children were among the first to freeride there. Donahue is now president of the Clark Park Advisory Council, which he and his neighbors formed to preserve the woods. He says they were thrilled when bikers began flocking to the area over the last three to four years: “We thought it was great because they were picking up the trash. They had an interest in keeping it clean.”

When a group of local riders proposed turning the woods into a bike park, the council welcomed the idea, and helped them present it to the alderman and then the Park District. "The city really liked the idea," says Jeremy Kawka, who spearheaded the effort along with Tim Hovey and Daniel Peter. Still, it took another year and a half of work before the plan got an unequivocal green light. "They wanted a lot of information. I gave a lot of presentations to people I didn't know," Kawka says.

After giving the Park District a blueprint of their plans, local riders began construction on the trails in the summer of 2009. They enlisted the help of Chicago Area Mountain Bikers (CAMBr), a nonprofit that builds and maintains riding destinations in Chicagoland, which provided funding and expertise. In addition to building the bike trails and cleaning up litter, the riders built walking trails—“exactly what we wanted there,” according to Donahue. “Now people can walk through and see different trees and vegetation, bird watch, enjoy the outdoors.”

The Park District gave the Garden final approval this spring. "This is the best year we've had so far," says Kawka of the park's popularity. "Any day of the week you can come out here and see people riding."