The new mountain bike trail taking shape at Van Dorn Park got its start years ago, as a seasonal cyclocross course.
Each autumn, race organizers would mow a serpentine route through the park’s west side. But the tall grass would return, and they’d have to mow it again.
James Krist took over those duties last year. He had the idea first, and then, this spring, he had unexpected time.
“After seeing how much work it took and how much time we put in, I thought, ‘Why can’t we do it permanently?’” he said. “When COVID came around, and I needed something to do, I started talking with the city.”
Krist is 21, an Omaha native majoring in mechanical engineering. He’s a longtime racer — mountain bikes, cyclocross and road racing — and is president of UNL’s cycling club.
He calls himself “a pretty big project guy.” He likes to keep busy.
But he couldn’t just grab a shovel and rake and start scraping the grass away. He needed the city’s permission, and that took some time.
The Parks and Recreation Department routinely fields requests from groups pitching their own plans for city parks. And it has a history of sharing public space with the private sector, with long-standing agreements with Star City BMX near Oak Lake Park, Community Crops at Peter Pan Park, Lincoln Youth Football at Sherman Field and the Lincoln Flying Disc Club.
But the city has conditions, said Denise Pearce, the department’s special projects administrator.
A project must be consistent with the department’s mission. The group must prove it can maintain what it builds.
It also must be a good fit for its proposed location. And in this case, it was — because Van Dorn Park needed a new reason for people to go there.
The park got its start more than 100 years ago, when its first parcel was deeded to the city. It grew to become one of the city’s major parks, serving neighborhoods in southwest Lincoln, said J.J. Yost, the department’s planning and construction manager.
But a new busy intersection at Ninth, 10th and Van Dorn streets — and its connection to Nebraska 2 — became a barrier for families living east and north of the park.
“It really doesn’t serve the neighborhood as well as it once did,” Yost said.
Krist’s proposal also made sense because the park already had a history with trails, and this was an expansion and improvement of that, Yost said.
Once the plan was approved by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and city lawyers, Krist was free to get to work.
He and others rode and walked potential paths several times, staking out a route with flags, then pulling them up and starting over. He wanted a loop with good flow, and enough quick elevation change — climbs and descents — to keep the ride interesting.
The 2-mile, one-way loop they charted uses some of the existing cyclocross course but also covers new ground.
Krist created a Facebook page, seeking volunteers to help build the trail. On Saturday, 20 showed up with shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows, trimmers and tampers; Sunday, 15 arrived. Altogether, they put in more than 100 hours of trail work.
And he expects even more progress this weekend.
Eventually, he and others want to add trail features — banked corners and ramps — but the first 1.8 miles should be ready to ride late Sunday.
* The singletrack project at Van Dorn Park will host work days starting at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
* Volunteers are welcome, as are shovels, wheelbarrows, dirt rakes and tampers.
* Look for trail organizers on west side of park.
* Details on Facebook. Search for Project: Singletrack @VDP.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter
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