BURLINGTON, Ky. — Like many 9-year-olds, Colin Beckerich of Hebron loves to ride his bicycle.
But, unlike most kids his age, Colin — along with his 11-year-old brother Carter — is a registered member of USA BMX, which means the boys can train and race in bicycle motocross (that’s what BMX stands for) competitions.
Up until recently, their shared passion for BMX meant their parents, Dan and Katie, would pile all four kids (they have two younger sons, as well) into the car and trek up to Cleves, Ohio -- the nearest spot for BMX cycling.
It was always a trip the Beckerich clan eagerly made. With Dan being a cyclist himself, the older boys’ interest in bicycles came as no surprise to Katie.
“They both got really into it really quickly,” Katie said. “Especially Colin.”
Now, the Beckerich boys have a place to ride much closer to home, as a new bike park, complete with four different dirt riding facilities, is set to celebrate its grand opening Sunday.
And it’s the only park of its kind in the region — both in its amenities and its mission.
Both On and Off the Bike
As WCPO initially reported back in April, the bike park is the brain-child of Dave Huff and Brady DeLong, who together head up the cycling advocacy and education program Riding Forward, based in Erlanger.
For them, building the park wasn’t just about having a place to ride that’s closer to home for Northern Kentucky kids like Colin and Carter. It was about setting the stage for Riding Forward’s larger mission: to empower kids to develop skills, confidence and a sense of responsibility -- both on and off the bicycle.
“We want to give these kids the track, of course,” Huff told WCPO last spring, as plans for the park were taking final shape. “But more than that, we want to teach them how to take care of it once it’s built, how to make repairs. How to take ownership.”
The 5-acre park consists of beginner and intermediate “pump tracks” — that is, looped tracks consisting of dirt berms and rollers that allow cyclists to move with minimal pedaling in order to focus on other skills — a jump line and a downhill dual slalom course.
The pump tracks are what make England-Idlewild's bike park unique to the region.
The heavy lifting was done via donated time and machinery, courtesy of the Boone County Parks and Recreation Department, whom Huff and DeLong approached more than a year ago with the idea of converting the unused plot of land into a bike park.
Having spent the summer building the park, Huff said that mission has already hit high gear.
Huff said it didn’t take long after Memorial Day weekend — when he and his team of volunteers finished the first, beginner-level pump track at England-Idlewild — for riders of all ages and skill-levels to start showing up.
“You’d have kids coming by after school, you’d have the mountain bikers coming from the (nearby) trails to check out the track,” he said. “Families would show up with their kids and just try it out.”
In the four months to follow, Huff and volunteers built out the remaining lines and tracks, sometimes organizing “build weekends,” but mostly a little bit at a time, shovel-full by shovel-full. An afternoon ride almost never came without a little build time, and vice versa, Huff said.
“Most of the older guys know you put in a little shovel time and then ride," Huff said. "The younger guys learned that along the way."
An organic approach to building the park was the most critical component for Huff, especially in its final stages, when volunteers worked with kids to put the finishing touches on the tracks, smoothing, tamping and fixing imperfections.
“Seeing the kids developing through the build process has almost been reward enough,” Huff said. “Being a part of the process is huge to maintaining kids’ interest.”
This is especially important now, Huff said, as the park reaches completion with the winter off-season just around the corner.
'Loner Sport,' Big Community
England-Idlewild Bike Park has given Colin the chance to experience that sense of fulfillment first-hand.
After a winter off his bicycle, Katie said, her boys lost their feel for it. But once the first pump track opened up, “Colin just fell in love with it all over again,” she said.
“We’ve been waiting for something to come around here,” she said. “To put this park together for these kids is just an amazing thing.”
Having a place for Colin to continue to develop as a cyclist is especially important to his mother.
Unlike his older brother, Colin was never much into team sports, which can present social challenges to some kids, not to mention being sometimes overly competitive.
“He was always into the more ‘loner’ sports — skateboarding, bikes — where he can challenge himself,” Katie said. "Everyone in the biking community has been so nice. They see the kids and they all come together, work with each other, showing each other new tricks."
It’s that sense of individual empowerment that drives Riding Forward’s central mission, Huff said, while the bike park itself, at the same time, serves to build a community of riders.
“There’s a sort of unspoken tutelage system that happens in both building the park and riders learning,” Huff said. "It’s cool watching the (different) demographics meld together.”
While Colin and Carter were both introduced to cycling at other parks by other mentors, Katie hopes England-Idlewild is where they will teach their younger brothers, 4 and 3 years old, how to kick up dirt as they grow older.
More Than Just a Bike Park
Ultimately, Huff sees England-Idlewild's new bike park as just one cog in a much larger mechanism beginning to gain momentum across the region.
Huff said the bike park has already meant increased partnership with local bike shops, like SPUN Bicycles in Northside.
Judi LoPresti owns SPUN with her husband, Dominic, who has been riding BMX for more than 30 years. Judi said the new pump track has only expanded their already deep connections to the Tri-State's growing bicycling community.
"We always wanted [a pump track] in Cincinnati," Judi said. "We just kept going back every week, making friends, meeting new people."
She also said her shop has noticed a spike in bike sales, particularly to more seasoned riders who may have used to ride BMX and now, watching their kids try out the new park, want to give it another go.
Beyond just local bike shops, Huff said the new park will keep local BMXers from having to head out of town to hit the dirt.
"All the restaurants and shops people stop at on a riding trip," Huff said, "let's keep these folks here in town, spending here."
A Model for More Bike Parks
With the already growing success at England-Idlewild, Huff said he is most eager to see what Cincinnati's riding scene will be like five years from now.
As WCPO has also reported, there is already another BMX track underway in nearby Covington, and Huff said he's been approached by other cities looking to do something similar to what he and Riding Forward have done in Burlington.
"If we can get a few more parks within a couple hours of here, we're not just building bike parks, we're turning the region into a hub," Huff said, each park with its own "crown jewel." England-Idlewild's defining feature, Huff said, are the pump tracks, but a future park might have an unparalleled slalom course or jump line.
"I don't want to leave anyone out," Huff said.
And by the looks of England-Idlewild, he's already succeeded, with somewhere for all ages and skill-levels to hit the dirt and pedal.
"All ages can ride somewhere and get better here," Huff said. "The only excuse for not being happy here is not being vocal or not showing up."
Sunday's grand opening celebration will include pump track demonstrations and challenges, giveaways from local bike shops (including SPUN), and visits from a few professional cyclists. The celebration starts at 1 p.m. at England-Idlewild Park, located at 5550 Idlewild Road, Burlington.