‘In The Dirt’ is a series about how the Vanier Park Dirt Jumps came about. The park, which will be breaking ground soon is expected to be complete before the end of this summer.

With the help of Chris Young, lead memeber of the Vancouver Dirt Jump Coalition, this short series will look at the process behind getting a park like this built.  An avid BMXer, Chris has tirelessly helped skateboarders as a director of the Vancouver Skateboard Coalition.  With his experience, he’s now making things happen for BMXers in Vancouver.

We left off part one of this series with a bit of history about the dirt jump project, and now we’ll take  a closer look at where we are today. Keep in mind, this process reaches back almost a decade, so if there’s one thing to learn from  reading this series, it’s that perseverance does pay off.

Early stages of construction to jumps (note actual construction may be further ahead than photo….yay.)

During Chris’ 11 years on the Board of Directors of the Vancouver Skateboard Coalition , they’ve had good working relationships with a few of the Vancouver Park Board staff. One staff member in particular that has really helped them over the years was Mark Vulliamy, from the Park Board planning department. Mark has since retired from the Park Board, but he wasn’t a skateboarder, and wasn’t a BMX’er, he was just really passionate about making Vancouver awesome and keeping active. Mark went above and beyond his job, often attending many of our Coalition meetings after-hours and he taught a few of us how the process works.

(Click for waaaay more!)

Mark knew that Chris was ‘the BMX guy’ on the VSBC, they would often chat after meetings about the needs of the BMX community. Over the years he’s put Chris in touch with other people that have contacted the Park Board looking for dirt jump facilities. The majority of these meetings went nowhere. Most people just aren’t interested in long-term planning – they just want to have something up and running right away.

Back in 2008, Mark received a few calls from neighbours in the Vanier Park area. Somebody had started digging some jumps in a wooded area of the park, so Mark got in touch with Chris to see if he was aware of the jumps, and wondered if he could take a look at them. The jumps weren’t great, and the area they were in certainly was not ideal. He asked Chris what he thought about building jumps in the open field area not too far from there. That got his attention really quickly. It was a soggy, underutilized area strewn with garbage, but if you put your imagine to work, you could see the potential.

Fast-forward a few months, many calls and emails, and it looked like BMXers might have found a spot for the city’s first legitimate dirt jumps. The Park Board staff still had to do some research about the area to see if adding ‘sports’ to Vanier Park would fit in with the other activities already in the park including the museums, the Children’s Festival, and Bard on the Beach.

Mark had Chris corral a few key riders from both the BMX and mountain bike communities to come to the Park Board office and talk about what they were looking for, and what this park could look like. I had Jay Miron join them for this initial meeting, because his no-holds-barred opinion, and years of professional riding experience are invaluable. They all walked away from the meeting thinking it was a great idea, and things were looking good for the project moving forward.

It wasn’t long after that, Chris got the magic phone call from Mark. A date had been scheduled for an Open House. This first open house was the test to see what the neighbourhood thought and for local community to take a look at the proposed concept.

A really good cross section of people at the first open house.

At this point they had already set up a Facebook group , which is the easiest way to unite a bunch of young like-minded people and have a discussion. The group quickly grew to about 800+ members in a matter of days. They were able to motivate a really good turnout at this first open house, which was really important for the Park Board to see. With local residents, and the bike community in the room together for the first time, it has the potential to get boisterous. There was a good presence of those in support, a few vocal opponents, a few that were clearly opposed to any kind of change to the park, and a handful that misunderstood the project completely. Taking the time to listen, and politely explain plans to members of the community when there are misunderstandings go a long way.

You’ve probably noticed the word ‘community’ used a lot here, and that’s very important. Regardless of what you’re planning, whether it’s a bike park, a skatepark, or a community garden, it’s not going anywhere without the support of the local community. It’s not something you can wave a wand and make happen. It’s something you have to work at, and it takes time. Vancouver is a very engaged group of citizens, which is great to see, but you do need to be prepared to hear from all sides.

This first open house went over well and they learned that they still needed the support of a few of the key stakeholders of Vanier Park, so the BMXers weren’t in the clear yet – there was work to do before the next step – the Vancouver Park Board Meeting.

This is where things really start getting exciting, and where we’ll begin the next part of our series…

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