Since 2006, a small wooded area along the Chicago River has been blooming into a BMX biker's paradise. Situated near Belmont and Western Avenues, The Garden is maintained by Chicago Area Mountain Bikers (CAMBr) and other volunteers. With tracks and jumps for all levels of riders, The Garden attracts experienced and beginner bikers alike.
The Garden has been officially open to the public since 2006.
I heard about this place several months ago, and as a previous casual BMX-biker-guy, I had to visit and see it for myself. I arrived around 11 o'clock on a Saturday morning and met a group of young kids chatting it up. I spoke with them about the trails; some of them had been there before, others had just arrived. They showed me around, introduced me to the big jumps, and the smaller ones.
Tarps and large carpets are used to protect the hand-built jumps from weather erosion.
I continued to wander around and noticed a guy opening up a storage unit built into the track. He looked like he was about to get to work, and he was. Matt Van Aker, The Garden's Trail Coordinator, has been digging at The Garden since 2008 and been riding there since 2006. I asked him to tell me about The Garden.
"It's completely volunteer driven, people come here, remove the carpets/tarps, ride, and replace them when their done. This shed is ours, full of tools to help maintain the trails."
The Garden is maintained by volunteers armed with shovels.
Matt was preparing the jumps for a "jam" the next day.
"Tomorrow, we're having a jam, where a bunch of riders will be out here riding all day. It should be a good time."
I watched as Matt and a couple other volunteers got to work, uncovering tarps and carpets, digging and sweeping. I was intrigued by the passion everyone there had for this sport, and that everything there has been built without the help of any heavy equipment... all my hand.
I enjoyed the nostalgia of being at The Garden. I used to find tracks and jumps like The Garden when I was younger. I still have a 20-inch Haro dirt jumping bike at my mom's house back in Michigan. In fact, I'm sure if she's reading this she's thinking "Damn kid needs to take his bike!".