Friday, December 08, 2023

'Tiny Woods' brings mountain biking into city

Staff Writer | November 2, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Pretty soon, young bike riders — and the not-so-young — will be jumping, balancing, and testing their skills on the city's new bike skills track at Travers Park.

Named the Tiny Woods Bicycle Skills Course, the renovated skills course is several years in the making. Long a favorite spot of young mountain bikers and youngsters looking for a spot to hang out, the course had been dubbed "Tiny Woods" by students at the nearby Sandpoint Waldorf School.

"We want this to be like a mini-Pine Street Woods right here in town," Welker said. "That's kind of the idea because kids don't always have the ability to get up to the trail system [at Pine Street Woods] that's just two miles from here. But any kid in town can ride their bikes here and have a trail experience right in the middle of town."

The track, which is tucked into a wooded area adjacent to the outdoor tennis courts, had become overgrown with branches and underbrush. A thick canopy of trees made the track seem dark, the drainage was poor, and its dirt track was in need of regular maintenance and yearly repairs.

The track also shot jumping riders onto the nearby pedestrian path, where walkers, runners, and parents pushing strollers could be passing by.

"We wanted to create a more contained skills area and spruced it up with all the steel and wood structures," Welker said.

It had been a dream to provide something like Tiny Woods for a number of years, Welker said. That made the POP's partnership with local groups, businesses, and the city a no-brainer. It is also a win for the community, with no tax dollars going to make the renovations possible.

Between grants, donations, and fundraisers, Pend Oreille Pedalers raised almost $75,000 to transform the course. Syringa Cyclery raised $6,600 through a pair of fundraisers, the Equinox Foundation awarded the group a $10,000 grant; and the group netted a $20,000 grant from the Idaho Mountain Bike License Plate Fund.

Because POP members volunteered to install the skills course under the direction of ARC supervisors, Welker said the group was able to make their money go even further, with nine skills features instead of the five that they'd originally thought.

"Now that I see them, I realize they're even cooler than I thought it would be," Welker said.

A total of five tracks will be built into the course, with riders able to design their own route around the course. However, signage may be added to encourage riders to be respectful of others and ride in one direction if there are a lot of riders on the course.

The steel-and-cedar features will last for decades, if not longer. And if a cedar plank on the decking needs to be replaced, Welker said that is just a matter of getting a replacement from a local mill. Once complete, the course will belong to the city.

While POP has developed more than 16 miles of trails around Sandpoint in the last three years, Welker said the Tiny Woods course is the first inside the city.

Pend Oreille Pedalers learned about the company during conversations about upgrades to the Concrete Lake, the city's skatepark located along Pine Street. While the company's proposal wasn't favored by the community's skating community, Welker said local bikers were intrigued by what the company could do for bike parks.

Welker, who serves as the executive director of Pend Oreille Pedalers, said the group began planning and approached city officials to see if they were interested in a partnership to make the project happen on the half-acre site.

"We knew the city wouldn't have the money for it, and with all of the plans for Travers Park, we thought it would be a good time for us to do this project," he said.

That meant paying for it, project management, and working on the skills course's design with supervisors from  Progressive Bike Ramps. While the renovation of the skills course is just one of the projects POP has done this year, Welker said it's one of the group's largest.

"The city has great vision, but they just don't have money for many projects," he said. "It takes public-private partnerships like this to make these [projects] happen.

Welker said he's excited that the course will make the sport more accessible for the community's youth.

"I want them to feel the thrill of what mountain bikers get to feel up at Schweitzer in the Lower Basin or over at Pine Street Woods or VTT, but they don't need to have a parent driving them up to a trail. They can visit one right here in the middle of town. It's just the access to the adventure, the excitement, and the challenge of riding real mountain bike trails, but you're just in your backyard."

Mountain biking is a growing sport, exploding in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic when outdoor activities were a great way to safely socialize and have fun. It was no different in Bonner County, with POP growing to more than 700 members and programs increasing as all ages and genders are attracted to the sport.

The course already has a number of young local fans, including Paxton Kee, who stopped by the course Oct. 21 when the features were being installed.

"It's awesome that we can just come and ride it whenever we want," Kee said, adding that he was already mapping out what features he wanted to try first. 

"It's fun," Kee said of the sport. "It's exercise while having fun. You can go super fast. You can get big air. There's technical lines. It's just almost a creative sport because you can do technical flow, jump lines, whatever you want … There's just endless possibilities."


    Pend Oreille Pedalers volunteers work to install features at the Tiny Woods bike skills course in late October.
    Pend Oreille Pedalers volunteers install a feature at the Tiny Woods bike skills course, part of the Travers Park complex.  

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