A bike park started in southeast Springfield as a clandestine effort by teenagers is on the verge of expansion and renovations totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next two years.
The work at Lone Pine Bike Park, located in a wooded area between the Galloway Creek Greenway and South Lone Pine Avenue, is funded by a $255,000 grant from the Springfield-based Hatch Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit formed in December 2019.
Ozark Greenways Inc. was the grant recipient, and the project kicked off June 1. Executive Director Mary Kromrey said the grant is expected to serve as the budget for the work, set to take around 24 months. Officials say the project fits right into the city’s goal to bolster placemaking efforts.
Funds will provide new natural-surface trails, bike park upgrades and ecological enhancements to improve the riparian corridor for stormwater and water quality.
“We’re going to be working to make some refinements to the existing trails and then adding up to 3 miles of additional trails,” Kromery said of the 16-acre park that currently has about 2 miles of trails for mountain bikes the public can utilize for free. “This is not a large trail development area. If we do another 3 miles of trails, that’s less than an acre that’s going to be disturbed.”
The trails will span from East Southern Hills Boulevard to East Covington Street, she said, noting plenty of greenspace will still be available. Watershed Conservation Corps, a pilot program of Watershed Committee of the Ozarks, is handling the ecological improvements needed in this area, which is a part of the James River Watershed. The group is removing invasive plants and dead trees, as well as replanting native trees and grasses.
A lot of dirt, gravel and large boulders currently sit at the park, Kromrey said, as the work has been held up some by the recent rain. The boulders will be used to create a bicycle hub.
“We are going to be utilizing those large natural-stone boulders and the majority of the dirt will go into that so that we can provide a manmade elevated area,” she said, noting it will be around 8-feet high. “We’re working to blend it into the natural landscape as much as possible.”
She said the boulders have drawn some attention from curious residents.
“We want to make it interesting and visually appealing,” she said of the park. “Right now, it’s a construction site. Not everybody likes the in-between process, which is where we are now with the way that it used to look and will look in the future.”
The bike park’s origin was technically illegal.
Teenage mountain bikers from the Brentwood and Southern Hills neighborhoods took it upon themselves to start building Lone Pine Bike Park two years ago without permission, Kromrey said. The dirt trails that already existed between the paved path of Galloway Trail and Lone Pine Avenue were mostly shaped by the teens last year during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Springfield-Greene County Park Board was in charge of the property at the time, and Tim Rosenbury said he learned about the teens’ work just a couple weeks after starting as the city’s director of quality of place initiatives. He said there were several approaches the city could have taken, including chasing the teens off the property and closing the trail.
“The last thing that I wanted to see the city do was to unleash all the power and force that a city can have on its own citizens, which was this enterprising group of middle schoolers and freshmen and sophomores in high school,” he said. “I admired their initiative and their interest in making their neighborhood a more interesting place for them to live. You don’t want to punish that kind of zeal. Instead, you offer some guidance.”
Rosenbury reached out to Kromrey, as he knew Ozark Greenways had a license to operate the greenway and liability insurance. He said additional discussions with the Park Board and City Manager Jason Gage ensued, leading Ozark Greenways to take over management of the city property.
“We knew if we were going to do anything that Ozark Greenways would have to take the lead on that and seek out private funding,” Kromrey said. “And that’s where the Hatch Foundation came into play.”
Executive Director Erin Danastasio said six family members make up the foundation and its board of directors. Danastasio began her role at Hatch Foundation at the end of 2019. She served as corporate communications manager at American Dehydrated Foods and International Dehydrated Foods until November 2019, according to her LinkedIn profile.
ADF/IDF, founded in 1978 by Danastasio’s grandfather, Bill Darr, was acquired in a $900 million deal by Germany-based Symrise AG in November 2019, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. Danastasio also is on the 11-member board of directors for the Darr Family Foundation.
Danastasio said the Hatch Foundation wants to help fund projects that focus on outdoor recreation and beautification in Springfield.
The nonprofit has donated funds to the Clean Green Springfield initiative, which is undertaking a series of citywide cleanup projects. Additionally, the foundation just donated $50,000 to the MIDxMIDWST Arts & Culture Initiative, a two-day mural art and music festival set for September. It’s part of roughly $405,000 the Hatch Foundation has gifted since its formation, she said.
“Once we heard about it, we were on board,” Danastasio said of the Lone Pine Bike Park work. “We really want to stand behind it and want this to be our big coming-out project. We loved the idea of a group of kids seeing a need in the community and really going for it.”
Rosenbury said the work Ozark Greenways and its partners are undertaking for the project “fits seamlessly with the idea of quality of place.”
“First of all, it supports our young people. Second, it provides a community asset within a neighborhood. Third, it’s kind of come up from the grassroots,” he said. “A lot of placemaking involves working with the public to come up with a consensus with what the public deems desirable. In this case, these students demonstrated with shovels, rakes and hoes, as well as their own sweat equity, what would be desirable at this site.”
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