Several years ago my husband and I volunteered at the first “clean up” day at the weed strewn tract of land that would later become Valmont Bike Park. While we had been racing triathlons and casually riding mountain bikes for years, we were still fairly new to the cycling community, and we were definitely still new to Boulder. So on a sunny Saturday we donned some work gloves and spent an afternoon pulling up weeds, picking up trash, and trying to imagine the world class cycling facility that was being promised. I don’t think either of us truly bought in to the hype.
Fast forward six years and it’s hard to imagine that I ever had my doubts.
Here are the stats, for the uninitiated: A 42-acre world class urban bike park that is absolutely free to the public. Trails and features for everyone from total newbs to the folks that love nothing more than flinging themselves off wooden structures that are many, many feet off the ground. Multiple pump tracks, a dual slalom course, big ass jumps, a sandpit, two sets of stairs for cyclocross, many rock and log features, and several miles of rolling trails make this a place that is fun for just about everyone who has any interest in riding a bike. Valmont has been home to everything from the weekly short track mountain bike series to cyclocross nationals and it served as a gathering ground when the Boulder cycling community lost one of its own.
But for me, it’s something very different than all of that.
When I was growing up, learning to ride a bike meant making laps on the sidewalk between our house and the neighbor’s while my dad hung on for dear life behind. Once I was off and pedaling, my two-wheeled adventures mostly meant trips around the block or to the 7-11 up the street. I didn’t wear a helmet (no one did back then) and my tires never left the pavement. I loved riding, but I had no idea that there was a whole other world of adventure beyond the confines of the neighborhood.
Compare that to my kid, who at two and a half years old has spent more afternoons cruising around on dirt than many adults have in the entire course of their lives. I started taking him to Valmont when he was around 20 months old, back when “riding” his Strider meant walking slowly along, his feet never really leaving the ground. Now, he flies. And every time I watch him fearlessly ride up to a new feature or pick up his feet and go cruising around berms, I feel grateful all over again for this community that puts such a premium on keeping all of it’s citizens – from the very youngest to the very oldest – happy, healthy, and active.
I love that my kid has a place to rip it up in relative safety, a place that is enormous and far enough from cars that I don’t have to worry about him getting hit. I love that he has a place to learn the rules of the trail and to practice yielding and sharing his space. I love that he can ride around with his little toddler buddies while pros do hot laps on the XC trails just a few feet away. I love that he sees both kids and adults being active and having fun in the outdoors. I love living in a community that thinks these kinds of things are very, very important.
I know that Boulder is somewhat of an anomaly and that not all communities have the desire, or funds, to give their kids (and their adults, for that matter) this type of environment in which to learn some new skills, stay healthy and active, and have a hell of a lot of fun outside. But I also hope that it can serve as a model for other places. With sky high obesity rates and electronic devices constantly begging for our attention, sometimes we need a little push. Give people a rad place to come together and play outside, and chances are they will … or at least that’s the thought that’s going through my mind when I’m chasing my little ripper around the trails at Valmont.
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