NEVADA CITY, Calif. June 26, 2023 – The Seven Hills Bike Park, a new addition to Seven Hills Middle School’s Bike Program, is rapidly becoming a favorite spot for kids to ride their bikes and hone their skills.
Open to all bikers during the summer
Right now, the park is open to anyone on a non-motorized bike. The track is intended for bikes, not one wheels, not go carts or RC cars, or anything motorized. Access is via Reward Street or Hellman Court in Nevada City off Zion Street.
“We don’t have a lifeguard on duty, and we ask people to help maintain the track. If you can clean up the trash, pick up things, even cut blackberries if you can and stuff like that.”
Ben Preston, a PE teacher and bike team coach, explains how the bike park came about: “When I took this job here about four years ago, I became the bike coach for the after school bike program. At the time, there was a small system of trails already on school property that we began to kind of maintain and develop. It was overgrown, there was trash, there were signs of transient living in the area and stuff. So, we started to clean it up and use it as a facility for riding bikes after school with kids. In December of 2019, I contacted Sam Schug, the Seven Hills Principal and Monica Daugherty, the District Superintendent, and I said I’d be really interested in developing this into what’s called a bike park or a pump track so we could really develop skills, facilitate skills development with the kids and have something fun for kids in the Nevada City to do after school.”
Then the pandemic hit. Preston continued conversations with insurance companies and, with the support of the principal and the superintendent, continued to build and maintain trails with his students. “Luckily for us, during COVID one of the few activities kids had was cycling, so I could run my bike club, actually. And it was a godsend for kids, for their mental health, really,” Preston recalls.
“At the time when I was looking around, I was looking at my students and who are all middle schoolers, and they’re kind of at a loss for what to do with themselves around town during the day. They’re not high schoolers, they don’t have cars. A lot of times they’re stuck here in the summer, things like that. And they really want to challenge themselves in healthy ways. And I’ve seen bike parks and other communities help kids do something that’s creative, that’s functional, that’s exercise, that’s really good for them with bike parks.”
Scaling up the track
The students helped maintain and build the trails initially. “But it was just what we could get done with a few 12- and 13 year-olds and a couple of shovels. The dream was still there to build something like this,” Preston says, pointing at the existing track.
“I knew it would cost about 20,000, $30,000 to build something like this. Then last spring, a couple of new riders joined my club. I was talking to one of the moms when we were doing some trail maintenance here for a race and she said, my husband is a machine operator for KP Martin. And KP Martin loves helping out the community, too. I bet you we could get something going with that.”
The new team looked at other pump tracks and designed a track based on the existing landscape at the site. They came up with a design proposal, contacted the insurance again and went through a due diligence process.
Donated labor moves mountains
All of KP Martin’s workers donated their time and the company gave them a ‘very modified’ rate for rentals of the heavy equipment needed. The work was done over a weekend and the bike track came into focus.
The maintenance is done by Preston’s students and parent volunteers can also be seen frequently helping out. One in every six or seven students in the school is signed up for the bike club.
Safety skills not just for club members
The school’s bike club is the recipient of an Outride grant from Specialized to bring cycling into the classrooms. “We got 30 bikes from the Outride program, and we teach basic bike skills during PE and how to commute properly, how to ride on streets, how to signal, how to wear the helmet, how to turn safely, all of those things. Not mountain biking skills, but road riding and commuting and safety skills, the basics of every kid’s needs. That reached about 100 students as well in the school. So 60 in the club, and then about 100 with the Outride program are riding bikes here,” Preston explains.
When our crew was at the bike track, so was Amanda Forrester, a parent of a Seven Hills student. “I am Mr. Preston’s team manager. We helped raise funds this year amongst the team and club parents to fund snacks for each ride. I show up at the end of each ride with some water and some treats for the kids. And they love hanging out and enjoying that time after a ride. We also raised funds for an end of year party where we had pizza and snow cone machine for all the students.”
She thanked local stores for snack and drink donations, KP Martin, Jada Windows, the local Chapter Ten Clampers and the parents who donate money and time to make the park a success.
Forrester knows more is needed and wants the community to be involved with the park. “Our Seven Hills bike club and bike park needs more volunteer support from the community to help keep the park area maintained properly so it will not fall apart. We need community members that know how to maintain trails to show up with tools on a regular basis to help keep this park safe for our community. Anyone can reach out to Ben or I through email, or just simply show up and get to work using brooms and rakes. Also, we like to occasionally, lightly water down and shape damaged areas. We are still in the process of working on proper signage, creating a tool storage area and a bench hang out spot similar to the Auburn bike park. Please contact Ben via email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, would like to volunteer or make a donation.”
Plans for expansion
Seeing the transformation of the vacant area that recently was a dumping ground for slash piles and bugkill trees into basically a shaded fuel break for the neighborhood is impressive.
Preston and his students are already looking at improving the track, or maybe creating another track nearby. They’ll need grant funding and community support to pull it off.
Meanwhile, the park provides a great opportunity for kids to spend time outdoors and have fun.