Missoula cyclist Max Siebert was shocked Wednesday morning to find Missoula Parks and Recreation personnel busy tearing down a collection of dirt jumps at the gravel pit, a popular spot up the Rattlesnake Canyon for many in the local biking community. The 26 year old started riding there back in sixth grade, and while the jumps have never been permitted by the city, the tear-down came without warning.
“It was pretty frustrating indeed,” Siebert says. “It always is.”
Siebert promptly texted fellow biking enthusiast Travis Switzer, an intern at the Adventure Cycling Association and part-time employee at Missoula Bicycle Works, to break the bad news. The two visited the site later that evening. There were rocks everywhere, Switzer recalls. Dirt was piled around, holes were dug in jump landings. The whole place looked “awful.”
“It was pretty sketchy Wednesday,” Switzer says. “Then I went back today, and it looks like they’d gone up there with a loader or an actual dozer or something and just flattened it out.”
Members of the cycling community quickly took to social media to voice their disappointment. Missoula Bicycle Works owner Alex Gallego posted a response to the city’s action on the shop’s Facebook page, cautioning people against vilifying those who removed the jumps. “They are the very same folks that are working with Kathy Coey Jackson and I Ride For Tanner on your behalf to secure land to build a dirt jump park for Missoula,” Gallego wrote. “The folks at Missoula Parks and Recreation have put a lot of time and effort to secure land for a bike skills park.”
The I Ride For Tanner initiative, devoted to building a memorial BMX park for deceased young cyclist Tanner Olson, recently announced it was close to reaching its donation goal.
This isn’t the first time Parks and Rec has intervened at the gravel pit. Morgan Valliant, conservation lands manager for the department, says this is the third time in his seven years on the job that the jumps have been removed. And every time, without fail, cyclists have gone back in to rebuild. It’s not that he’s against bike jumps or skills parks, Valliant says, it’s just that as activity at the gravel pit increases, the jumps begin to present a legal problem for the city.
“Once we start getting complaints about high levels of use in that area, it really becomes a liability issue,” Valliant says. “If we know about it and someone hurts themselves on it, we are liable. The city and the taxpayers are liable to pay for injuries.”
Siebert and Switzer both say they understand where the city’s coming from, and feel the situation is simply an unfortunate byproduct of Missoula’s lack of infrastructure for their style of cycling. The gravel pit's popularity has "grown exponentially" in recent years, Siebert says, largely because it's currently the only place in town where the opportunity for such riding exists.
“I’m not blaming entirely the city for it, because it’s a fair liability issue they face and it’s understandable,” Siebert says. “It’s just unfortunate that it has to get bulldozed. It’s a pretty popular spot for families.”