One Step Away
The Philly Pumptrack gives kids from Parkside the
opportunity to bike without peddling on patches of dirt,
channeling their inner Ryan Nyquist.
New York native, Heidi Grunwald, Managing Director for
Temple University’s Institute for Survey Research, dreamt of
the park with her partner Kenn, whom she met through a
mountain biking community in Philadelphia. It all started
with one question Grunwald posed to her community
of bikers, “Wouldn’t it be cool to bring a pumptrack to
The merge between Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation
departments was what made the dream seem more like
“It was perfect timing,” Grunwald said. “We knew they
wanted to bring a project together with kids in a recreational
space, and the pumptracks would provide that recreational
space for kids on public land.”
Building the pumptracks was a four-year process. In 2010,
they proposed a pumptrack in Philadelphia that would
include a trial system of raised banks, smooth mounds for
pumping, and crater-like bowls to Philadelphia Parks &
Recreation Director of Development, Ed Fagan. After months
of community engagement and a down vote in Juniata, they
set their eyes on Parkside. And the Parkside community
voted yes. The group raised over $45,000 to create what is
now the Philly Pumptrack.
“I love being able to see kids come and get on bikes,”
Grunwald said. “Kids who have never been to the woods,
seen dirt, or recreated in the woods and dirt.”
Many of the youth who utilize the track have been there
since the shovel first hit the ground, and it has become an
alternative community for the kids.
She recounted a time when she drove a kid to his mother’s
home from the tracks. Once she arrived to the home and
began to take the bike off her car, she said she felt a weird
vibe as a group of teens began to congregate several feet from
them. After a few unanswered knocks, her instinct told her to
take the kid and the bike back to her car. Then a car drove by
and a gun was waved.
“I was so scared,” Grunwald said. “I was trying really hard
to take my emergency break off, but there was as Gatorade
bottle in the way.”
That is when her passenger looked over to her and said,
“See, I told you this was a bad neighborhood.”
“These kids know their neighborhoods,” Grunwald said.
“They know the challenges in their neighborhood.”
Not only does the pumptracks serve as a place of refuge
from the challenges they deal with in their neighborhood
or personal lives, it is also a place where they do not have
to aspire to be the next Stephen Curry or Cam Newton.
According to Grunwald, the track attracts many kids who
do not necessarily enjoy playing or are good at typical high
school sports like basketball, baseball, or football. The kids
have even expressed how impactful the track is to them to
not have those athletic pressures.
“David is a kid who has been coming to the track since the
beginning,” Grunwald said. “Kids like him say, ‘We love it
here so much because we’re not football or basketball players.
Here, no one makes fun of you. You don’t have to sit on a
The track is run by volunteers who are riders and donate
their time because they not only like to ride on the track but
they also enjoy seeing the kids ride. Seeing mentorship taking
place is important to Grunwald, because she often does not
see the parents of the kids on the tracks. The volunteers are
a diverse group, ranging in age, race, and gender, which has
afforded the track the ability to have volunteers mentor youth
who do not look like them and vice versa.
“It’s an all equal playing field,” Grunwald said.
However, being run by volunteers poses challenges for
the track. Often times there are not enough people to go
around on weekends. Theft is also a challenge the track faces.
When initially designing the track, Grunwald said the team
decided on building a split chained fence around the track
to assimilate well with nature and not create an unwelcome
atmosphere. It is not the easiest to lock a bike up to a split
chained fence, however, and the track has seen seven to eight
bikes ride off. Money is now being raised to build a tall, chain
“It’s unfortunate, but we can’t have people stealing bikes,”
said Grunwald. “We can’t serve the kids in the community
without bikes. And if we keep the fence that we have now, we
will only be serving kids who already have bikes and are more
likely from the suburbs.”
"Here, no one makes fun of you. You
don't have to sit on a bench."
Because the track serves the community, everyone is eager
to help out. This partnership allowed for the recovery of four
of the bikes that were stolen. A good Samaritan in Parkside,
while riding by the track at night, witnessed a group of kids
stealing bikes from the track. He managed to stop them,
grabbing four of the bikes, and he gave Heidi a call the next
“The neighborhood looks out for us,” Heidi said.
There is a crossbow trial behind the track for people to use
for walking, running, and biking.
“We have little kids who are too small to ride the bikes,”
Grunwald said, “so I ask them if they want to go in the woods.
They’re scared and say, ‘No. I don’t want to go. It’s scary there.’
But once they go, they think it’s amazing and want to keep
Grunwald said a long-termgoal is to createmore pumptracks
across Philadelphia, but it takes committed people who live
in and around the neighborhood who are willing to put in
“This has truly been a good civic, public, and private
partnership,” said Grunwald. “We couldn’t do it without the
support and land from the city. Parks and Recreation has
been a great partner.”
Photos provided by Philly Pumptracks
Cover Photo by Thom Carroll Photography
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