It's been roughly four years since Kathy Jackson officially launched a nonprofit dedicated to establishing a Missoula BMX park in honor of her deceased son, Tanner Olson. In that time she's raised $100,000 in donations and worked closely with city officials to find a suitable site for the project. What few possibilities have come up ultimately failed to materialize. But as she points out the various features on a set of bike park maps hung near the front of Missoula Bicycle Works on a recent Friday evening, Jackson seems to be fueled by a renewed sense of momentum. For her, just being able to talk about the latest developments is "exponentially huge."
"People have been wondering what the hell I've been doing, why is nothing happening," Jackson says. "It's so frustrating because I cannot go out and ask people for donations without being able to tell them what's going on."
Turns out a lot has changed for Jackson and her I Ride For Tanner movement. What began as an effort to build a regional competition-level BMX park morphed last year into a public-nonprofit partnership supporting the development of two smaller neighborhood-based bike parks: the youth-oriented Bellevue Park along 39th Street and the more expansive Syringa Park up the Rattlesnake.
The conceptual maps displayed at the bike shop were released by Missoula Parks and Recreation last month and came out of several public design workshops held last fall. During those meetings, Jackson remembers watching some of Tanner's old friends, now in their late teens, work alongside younger riders to pencil out the features they'd most like to see. Missoula County Landscape Design and Planner Garrick Swanson says when it comes to Syringa, 90 to 95 percent of the park's configurations were drawn from rider suggestions.
- Conceptual designs for Syringa and Bellevue parks reveal how local officials and cycling advocates plan to address Missoula’s demand for sanctioned bike skills facilities.
According to Missoula Parks and Rec Director Donna Gaukler, at least three different user groups have approached her office since 2004 regarding the lack of bike skills facilities in the area. But it wasn't until Jackson approached her in 2012 that Gaukler felt they had a prospective partner with "enough resources, time and commitment" to move the effort forward.
"You get a sense when somebody's serious enough they're going to stick it out," Gaukler says. "They're all serious and they're all passionate and they all want it bad, but when somebody walks through your door you know whether or not they're going to be able to hang in there long enough and do all the work it takes."
Gaukler adds the two proposed parks could resolve a number of other issues around Missoula, particularly the unsanctioned use of Mount Jumbo Open Space by BMX riders. The city bulldozed several gravel jumps up the Rattlesnake last year citing safety concerns. Jackson feels that development may have actually helped her cause, prompting the riding community to redirect their frustration to finally securing a sanctioned park.
Now that the conceptual designs are complete, Jackson hopes to see the city break ground on the two parks by the end of the year. Gaukler says it's a possibility, but there are several major steps left in the process. The master plan for Syringa Park and the proposed features for Bellevue are up for joint public comment through April 22. Even if Syringa is approved by both the Upper Rattlesnake Neighborhood Council and the Missoula Parks and Rec Board, the estimated cost of construction is close to $200,000. Grant money has helped fund the planning phase, Gaukler says, but as the fundraising and promotional arm of the bike park effort, Jackson's nonprofit will need to find additional donors.
As she thinks back on the first time she laid eyes on the new maps, Jackson sounds like she's up for the challenge.
"It's probably my proudest moment as a mom," she says. "I mean, seeing your kids succeed and graduate and do everything they do, I'm not discounting that. But to do something for your son that's not here that you knew he was passionate about, it's the best."