SOUTH DEERING — The transformation of a former 278-acre industrial site on the Southeast Side into Big Marsh Bike Park is well underway — and officials hope by next year it will become a destination unrivaled in the city for cycling, fishing, canoeing, hiking, nature-walking and bird-watching.
The park at 110th Street and Stony Island Avenue in South Deering isn't open to the public yet, but work on the property has picked up steam as the weather warms.
"There’s still lots of trucks dumping clay at the site, and real construction starts soon, so you can’t just drop in," said Steve Buchtel, Friends of Big Marsh program coordinator. "The bike park is going to be popular. Chicago mountain bikers [go] to Georgia, or Louisville, or Colorado on weekends to ride the features Big Marsh will have."
Steve Buchtel, Friends of Big Marsh program coordinator, says Big Marsh Bike Park is taking shape. The Downtown skyline can be seen in the distant background. [Photos by DNAinfo/Justin Breen]
The bike park at Big Marsh is a public-private development, with roughly half the funding from the Chicago Park District and half from private contributions, Buchtel said.
Phase 1 of the bike park improvements will include a combination of different trails and material, according to Joel Baldin, a project manager with Hitchcock Design. The main plaza and bike plaza will have concrete sidewalks and a tot track for beginning riders, Baldin said.
During a tour given to DNAinfo Chicago on Thursday afternoon, some of the trails were starting to take shape, but most of the parkland was still unusable.
Last fall, about 100 mountain bikers tried out the trails. Check out the video below:
The park's main trail, which will be a half mile, will be multi-use asphalt, Baldin said. There also will be a crushed gravel multi-use, 1.9-mile path encircling the main bike park area that also will connect with other areas of the park.
The park also will include multiple dirt trails, plus BMX-style obstacles like dirt berms, dirt landings, a curved wall ride, a ladder drop and kicker ramps, Baldin said.
About 1.4 to 2 miles of the trails will be "single track," which are winding dirt trails around trees and other obstacles like single dirt rollers, dirt berms, dirt landings, rock gardens and rock causeways, Baldin said.
"Palos and Kettle Moraine have miles and miles of single track trails maintained by incredible mountain bikers that are fun, challenging, and of course the landscape is gorgeous," Buchtel said. "Both are fantastic outdoor experiences. But they’re further away than Big Marsh from most of the city. Traveling to the trails is usually the least fun part about mountain biking.
"When you get to Kettle and Palos, what you don’t find are features professionally designed to appeal to off-road cyclists and BMX riders — features like jumps and riding walls, structures for performing tricks, high-banked turns, and obstacles designed to challenge even a pro’s off-road cycling skills," Buchtel added.
The cost for opening the first phase of the park in spring 2016 is $6.4 million. The cost includes parking, water and sewer, the bike park features and a $1 million in-kind donation of dirt, Buchtel said.
The bike park will be anchored to a 1,000-acre park plan currently known as Big Marsh, Buchtel said.
"[It] makes Big Marsh the gateway to a major urban park experience on the southeast side of Chicago, where communities have been too long waiting and too often fighting for the land around them to be returned to open space they can enjoy," Buchtel said.
Steve Buchtel, Friends of Big Marsh program coordinator, shows where one of the trails will be at Big Marsh Bike Park.
The first phase was scheduled to be completed this year but was delayed until 2016 because $900,000 of the project budget is through an Illinois State OSLAD grant, which was suspended by Gov. Bruce Rauner on March 9, according to Chicago Park District spokeswoman Zvezdana Kubat.
"This project has been on hold awaiting a decision from the state on this important funding. If the state funds are not released, we will redesign the project to meet the lower budget available," Kubat said.
Kubat said the park district is looking at "a few different maintenance strategies" for the bike park's trails.
Buchtel has the keys to the park and said people or organizations who want to request a tour can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Buchtel also noted Friends of Big Marsh is working to raise an additional $2 million of the $6.4 million development cost by this fall for phase one. Contributions can be made online or by contacting email@example.com.
In addition, The Bonebell off-road cycling advocacy group is hosting a viewing of the cyclocross movie “For the Love of Mud“ as a fundraiser for the Phase 1 buildout of Big Marsh Bike Park. The event is May 31 at 7 p.m. at the Logan Theatre, 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave.
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