The Key To Building A Bike Park
It’s all in the research
By Della Lowe
Photos: St. George Park Planning
In November 2018, St. George, Utah—the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S., according to new estimates from the census bureau—opened the Snake Hollow Bike Park. The project, from the initial idea in 2014 to the opening of the park, however, was deliberate and well-researched. According to Jeff Peay, Deputy Director of Park Planning for the city, that approach was the key to success.
“Research is almost more important than the construction. To understand what you’re really going to get, what you’re going to need, and how to keep the park maintained is a huge part of it,” he says. “We’ve got our own designers, and we managed the construction to ensure that whatever we design gets built the way it should be because, a lot of times, you get lost in the middle and you don’t end up with what you design.”
The Right Team
Peay says that since the city’s Leisure Services Department had never built a bike park before, he and Mark Goble—landscape architect and project manager, who worked with him—had to learn a lot about it. They reached out to experts who had the right experience and came up with a master-plan concept that identified certain elements the two wanted for the park. They then put out a Statement of Qualifications (SOQ) to professional design consultants. Once that group was shortlisted, the list was narrowed to three or four possibilities.
“We did give them a stipend so that each could do a site survey and actually prepare some plans and give us some estimates based on three or four different sites that we thought fit the park, and asked them to give each a score,” Peay says. “This process brought a lot of issues to the surface. Snake Hollow, where it currently sits, was the biggest site and wound up as the best because it had a lot of overflow parking, two schools were across the street, and bike groups had already used it as an assembly point.”
In the end, the group chosen had a team that included a landscape architect, as well as staff with expertise in bike skills. Peay says the team needed a good set of plans because, for legal reasons, it had to make sure a benchmark existed to ensure that the park and mounds and all the elements could be maintained at a certain level, so users “weren’t in there modifying them.”
“From research, we learned that happens a lot,” he explains. “So that was an important element in us being able to keep the parks safe and lower any liability risk, if someone were to get hurt if a jump had been modified and we weren’t keeping tabs on that.”
Having a good set of plans that the parks department could adjust was critical. Much of the site-design work was done in-house, and then jump elements were designed by Flow Ride Concepts in Colorado.
The Right Elements
The premise of a bike-skills park is that riders can learn the skills they need before actually going out in “slick rock” or “the big open.” Snake Hollow Bike Park was designed to provide opportunities for people of all ages to develop their biking skills progressively in a concentrated and controlled environment. A variety of skill levels and experiences—ranging from beginner to advanced—are offered throughout the site.
The park is divided into several areas:
• Dirt jump zone
• Pump and bump skills loop
• Pump track
• Gravity jump trails
• Progressive drop zone.
Each area has a specific series of elements designed to help hone the skills of the riders and prepare them to advance to open-country riding, similar to that found in the southern Utah region. Along with creating those elements, the city completed a restroom, a 60-foot shade pavilion, paved trails that connect the park elements, and xeriscape landscaping, designed to tie into the local native environment.
Although St. George weather allows Snake Hollow to be the only year-round bike park in Utah, weather still is an important consideration. When building a bike park, the soil mix is paramount; Peay says it will make or break the project.
“You’ll be maintaining it all the time. It’ll be unsafe,” he says. “We had to do a lot of research to find out what we could get locally to avoid breaking the bank. If you’re hauling something from some remote location, it’s going to cost a fortune on a facility like this. Using local materials as much as possible is important, but you’ve got to get that recipe right for the soil mix.”
He notes that, if there’s too much clay in the mix, it will be slippery for users when it’s wet, or too dry and dusty when there’s no rain. If it’s sandy, it won't stick together. The mix has to be just right for the geographic area.
“The composition affects the maintenance side, too,” he points out. “You don’t want a fleet of 50 guys out there working every time it rains. There are some main maintenance jobs we do to keep the track in good condition. We close it when it’s wet, and we designed it so we can chain off certain areas and create controlled access when necessary. Right now, we have one full-time and two part-time employees dedicated to this park.”
The design used many rocks in certain areas to control erosion and also paid attention to the grading to avoid puddles or pockets of water in the park. Parks built in places with inclement weather will have to adjust the mix carefully, Peay notes.
The Right Place
Although St. George is a mecca for outdoor sports and adventure enthusiasts, the city is also conscious of community needs, and the placement of Snake Hollow has kept that in mind. City planners knew there was a demographic of kids who maybe weren’t playing soccer, football, or basketball, and who needed a place of their own.
“We looked at the area specifically because there was higher-density housing out there. Perhaps a lot of those kids wouldn’t have the ability to get out and use the park if it was clear across town,” Peay says. “We also linked Snake Hollow to much of our trail system at this point. Kids can ride their bike to the place and not have to be hauled over there. We did not want to create the park in a vacuum but rather with a holistic view.”
Funding for the project was generated from the city’s impact fund; a recreation, arts, and parks tax (passed by the voters several years ago); and Washington County. The first phase cost approximately $1.7 million.
Della Lowe is a former Emmy award-winning news producer for ABCNews and the marketing director for the DOCUTAH International Documentary Film Festival. Reach her at email@example.com.
Snake Hollow Park Timeline
2014: Research on bike parks. Mountain Bike Skills Park Master Plan completed.
2015: Continued research and site visits. SOQ for Recreational Mountain Bike Facilities issued.
2016: Continued research and site visits. Meeting with teams that submitted a SOQ. Refinement of potential bike park locations.
January 2017: Public meeting held to gather input from the community.
Summer 2017: RFPs requested from shortlisted teams.
Fall 2017: FlowRide Concepts hired as bike park designer. Civil Science hired for site engineering.
November 2017: Concept plan finalized.
Spring 2018: Construction package put out to bid. Interstate Rock hired as general contractor. Construction begun.
November 17, 2018: Snake Hollow Bike Park dedication.
All of phase 1: $1.7 million
Gravity jump trails: $300,000
Progressive drop zone: $165,000
Pump track: $210,000
Dirt jump zone: $200,000
Ramp material cost: $250,000