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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

link fence.

“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

the work.

“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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