The dream of two mountain bike enthusiasts became a reality last Saturday in the form of the Heatherwood Bike Park.
Eric Willetts and Collin Zucchi, both Ephrata High School sophomores, had imagined the idea of an official mountain bike trail while riding the natural terrain at the Heatherwood Park for some time.
Opened Oct. 19, the Heatherwood Bike Park, just off the Warwick to Ephrata Rail Trail in Ephrata, was made possible through the boys’ collaboration with Mainspring of Ephrata and Susquehanna Area Mountain Bike Association, SAMBA.
The new trail officially opened with much fanfare, as spectators witnessed bikers descend steep hills, navigate obstacles, cruise along sharp turns, and fly high over jumps.
“This trail far exceeds my expectations,” said a beaming Zucchi. “This is clearly the best of biking and a premier destination.”
Zucchi, who used to travel far for the true mountain biking experience, described how, with the help of his parents, he and Willetts reached out to Kelly Withum of Mainspring of Ephrata for help.
With approval of the Ephrata Borough, the project took shape and with the SAMBA team leadership, the track is operating less than one mile from downtown Ephrata.
With more than 1,000 SAMBA volunteer hours used to plan, design and build the park largely by hand, construction took place over the course of the past four months. By the time dedication ceremonies had completed, close to 20 mountain bike enthusiasts of all ages had already gathered to give it a ride.
The park features everything from pump tracks to easier trails for less skilled/younger riders and maps are available a kiosk at the start of the trail.
A pump track teaches how to ride over an uneven surface and will be open to cyclists as young as 2 years old with balance bikes. Stretching about a mile-and-a-half, it is the first such park in the state to offer three levels of challenge.
There is a skills area with challenging obstacles such as log crossings, rocks and skinnies (wooden beams, roughly six inches or less in width, raised off the ground).
The pump track and skills area are new to the region, the closest skills trail is in Delaware. The closest pump track is in Philadelphia, according to a mountain bike association official.
Community support for the park began to build when three local breweries joined the fundraising effort. Black Forest Brewery, St. Boniface Craft Brewing, and Pour Man’s Brewing Company together concocted a special brew called Ales for Trails.
A portion of the proceeds of each pint of Ales for Trails sold was donated to the Heatherwood Bike Park project.
Additional funding was raised through a GoFundMe page so that the entire project could be completed without use of public funds or manpower.
Saturday’s ribbon-cutting event attracted local leaders including State Rep. David Zimmerman, County Commissioner Josh Parsons, Ephrata Mayor Ralph Mowen, Ephrata Area School District
Superintendent Dr. Brian Troop and Withum, Mainspring of Ephrata executive director.
More than 50 people attended the noon ribbon-cutting and opening ceremonies complemented with food trucks and vendor stands featuring local bicycle shops and bike clubs.
Zimmerman applauded the spirit of community cooperation that brought the park into reality.
“The result is this park which will be here for the next generation,” he said.
Parsons brought congratulatory remarks, saying he was also expressing the appreciation of the other county commissioners for all who made the project a reality.
Mowen thanked the many local entities that stepped up to make it happen, including the students, breweries, SAMBA, Withum and the Mainspring of Ephrata team.
“I’m sure this will bring many years of fun and great times,” commented Mowen.
Withum stressed the sense of cooperation, teamwork and a willing community coming together to create something that will make a huge impact for generations.
“I’ve never been part of such a great project like this one,” Withum said. “This is a community-built park. Without their time, effort and cooperation this park wouldn’t exist. The partnership with SAMBA and the others has been unbelievable!”
SAMBA President Nick Loftus summed it simply “Trails build communities and communities build trails.”
Reese Bromirski, 9, of Ephrata, was already raring to go on his dirt bike.
“I’ve been hearing about the trail,” said Bromirski. “It sounded like fun. I think I will use it a lot.”
Ephrata Middle School student Gavin Newswanger agreed.
“This is going to be fun to have this trail a half-mile from home,” said Newswanger. “They did a great job. I’m glad I can come use it without a long drive.”
Gary P. Klinger is a freelance journalist with The Ephrata Review since 2006. He is glad to receive your questions and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.