Editors note: This feature story was written by University of Arizona student Will Saetren. Check out the gallery of images from the park.
Kids, teenagers and adults fly through the air as the whir of bicycle tires creates a soothing background noise. Barrio Trails is one of those places where generations come together and bond over a common love for athletics.
At first glance, the informal BMX park doesn’t look like much. It’s located on a vacant lot near the intersection of North Fremont Avenue and East Broadway Boulevard in Tucson, and it is entirely man-made from the ground up. Shovels, mattocks, rakes and brooms were used to dig holes and build jumps in what has become an elaborate network of smooth, level trails.
Kids, parents, and grandparents gather at the trail regularly to share their passion for riding, whether it is in the form of attempting the highest 15-foot jumps, riding the new beginners lanes, or simply leaning back in a camping chair and watching your grandchildren enjoy themselves for hours on end.
All this is made possible thanks to the efforts of a young man by the name of Rocky Serna. Rocky says he moved to Tucson from Oregon to race road bikes, but soon he decided he wanted to go back to where his passion for biking began — BMX.
He discovered that switching styles wasn’t as easy as it seemed at first.
“I came out here and there was no place to dirt-jump,” he said.
In Tucson there are two formal BMX tracks, but they are rarely open to the public. Three days a week they open the gates, but two of the days are designated for official races, and only one is reserved for public practice.
In order to solve this problem he decided to take matters into his own hands. He found a location that was secluded, flat and unoccupied, and started to dig.
“At first it was pretty selfish, it started as a project between me and my friend James,” he said.
But the park took on a life of its own and started to grow rapidly. Rocky remembers how a few neighborhood kids started to show up while they were digging, and before long, they wanted a piece of the pie. To accommodate the younger kids, they made smaller jumps next to the bigger jumps and before long, dozens of kids of all ages were enjoying the park.
As the trails became more and more popular one major concern began to surface in the minds of the riders. A common issue surrounding informal BMX parks is that once they reach a certain size they are almost always torn down.
This happens for several reasons. More often than not, they are unsightly. Large unkempt mounds of dirt make up the jumps, the parks often have no rules governing safety, and they often attract unsavory crowds. As a result, neighbors and local residents inevitably issue formal complaints and have the authorities level the parks.
To avoid this from happening to Barrio Trails the riders decided that it was crucial to get the local community on board with the project. Steps were taken to ensure that the park was visually appealing. The jumps were landscaped, and the vegetation was trimmed back to create a canopy around the trails. Small clean up crews were organized to pick up trash and maintain the area.
The first thing that strikes you when looking at the park is the neatness and simplicity of the layout. Trails and jumps have been carved out of the rough terrain and smoothed down to create a professional appearance. Many of the paths are carefully lined with river rocks from the wash that runs along the side of the park, and serve the purpose of both defining the path for the rider, and creating a natural visual effect for spectators.
The trails shift direction and weave around the trees and foliage that stud the park. “We left the trees and bushes to help create a natural feeling and worked the trails around them,” said Rocky. “It looks better and creates shade for the riders.”
The jumps are also worked over and covered on both sides with circular river rocks. This way the jumps appear to serve a specific purpose rather than sticking out against the background as tall, ugly mounds of dirt.
In order to make sure that the neighbors were on board, Rocky attended a Barrio San Antonio Neighborhood Association meeting. He introduced himself, explained what he was doing and what he hoped the park could become in the future.
“I told them that that the kids needed a place to ride their bikes and I could give them that,” he said.
After Rocky finished his presentation he got a standing ovation and the full support of the neighbors.
Margaret Montijo is one of many parents who have become intimately involved with her son’s love for the park.
“Everybody’s a big family here,” she said.
Depending on whether her son’s homework situation allows it, she and other parents spend several hours a week at the park overseeing their children as they race around the track.
On this particular day that’s exactly what she’s doing. Margaret, her husband Sam and several other dedicated parents and grandparents watch as their children and grandchildren race around the track again, again and again. Dark clouds loom overhead reminding everyone of yesterday’s rain, yet the riders don’t seem to mind.
They keep making the runs, turns and hitting the jumps at breakneck speeds, tearing up mud, dirt and gravel as they go. All the while Rocky and a few of his friends work maintenance on a few of the muddiest jumps, scraping off the grime, and packing down the freshly watered dirt.
As yet another kid soars across the sky, Rocky leans against his shovel with a grin on his face. This is what its all about, he thinks to himself. Creating something from nothing, and knowing that that something is making the community a better place than it was before.