On an overcast December day, Matthew Brown launched his bike off a drop and raced down a muddy, sinuous track. The path took him flying over rollers and logs, around dirt berms and high curving walls where a rider can, for a moment, defy gravity.
A steady stream of cyclists arrived to check out Victoria’s newest urban greenspace – technical riders with sturdy, single-speed jump bikes like 12-year-old Matthew’s, teens on mountain bikes with fat shocks, parents encouraging small children on pushbikes.
The Cecelia Ravine bike park answers to the challenge of carving new parks out of developed landscapes. Before construction started last summer, a warehouse sat here. Behind it lay an inhospitable tangle of brush – an area favoured by vandals and drug users, avoided by the general public.
Matthew is part of a group of young people who helped design the new park.
“I wanted a lot of jumps, but not in straight lines,” he explained in between circuits. “It was cool, they took some of the design elements from the course we designed – berms and jumps and drops.”
What does he like best? “Everything,” he said with a grin, before taking off for another spin.
His mother, Shelley Brown, has been scheming for a park like this since her son was a preschooler. “I wanted it to be built while Matt still wanted to ride – and I could still ride it myself,” said Ms. Brown, a city parks planner.
Ms. Brown, leaning against a fence and watching her son ride, recalled the litter-strewn lot that was here not long ago. “It was a very unwelcoming space. You wouldn’t walk through it.”
Mayor Dean Fortin opened the park in October, taking the inaugural ride in the rain. It’s not often an urban mayor gets to cut the ribbon on a new park.
“In an old city that’s well-developed, it’s always difficult to find new park space,” he said in a recent interview. Still, in 2011, Mr. Fortin presided over a series of openings and park renewal projects. “It’s exciting and cool to make new parks,” he said. “Victoria residents want more parks; we want to give ’em to them. We love parks.”
Finding vacant land in a city with some of the most expensive property values in the country takes creativity. The Balfour play lot opened in the summer, a pocket park in a neighbourhood with few safe places for preschoolers to play. The land is leased from a church.
To make way for the $300,000 Cecelia Ravine bike skills park – it still awaits a name – the city bought the warehouse and rented it out until the purchase was paid off. Then the wreckers cleared the lot. A new basketball court and ball-hockey rink were fitted in to the building’s old footings, while the bike paths weave around mature trees left standing after the lot was cleared of invasive laburnum, poison hemlock and other undesirables.
Nathaniel Cook, at 16, was already an activist in the mountain-biking community when he got involved in the bike-park design. But he was skeptical about the project. “I didn’t think we’d get what we wanted.” His father, Richard Cook, another avid mountain biker, was also doubtful. “When we saw the site, we thought, ‘Geez it’s pretty small.’ ”
But after three planning meetings, the “flow” trails evolved, each with different technical skill levels. The design packs in the features the younger Cook hoped for, including a pump track where riders can loop around dirt jumps without peddling.
It is not just the features he is happy about – it’s the location. “This is easy access,” he points out.
Until now, the only other place for mountain bikers and technical trials riders near Victoria had been a network of trails behind the region’s landfill. Instead of waiting for a time when his father could pack up the bikes and drive to the Hartland dump, Nathaniel can get to the Cecelia Ravine park on his own steam – it lies adjacent to a 30-kilometre bike path that winds through the city and nearby municipalities.
The Hartland dump is popular with committed riders, but too far from town to attract many city kids.
Ms. Brown hopes this will open up the sport to those kids who, like many of her son’s friends, have never had the chance to get their wheels in the air.
“To see the kids in the neighbourhood here, who didn’t even know this kind of riding existed – that’s the real measure of success.”