Ben’s Bike Playground

Ben called us his “yes” people. Sometimes I think he had just perfected his tactics for convincing people and we happened to be conveniently persuadable with kids the right age. Regardless, he knew how to wait for the right moment, draw us in with a story and make us feel like we were missing a part of the future if we didn’t just “give it a try”. For someone pretty well immune to peer pressure (I really tried to get him to grow his hair out so I could see proof of the supposed poof), he managed to gather quite a following of “yes” friends.

Like most times, we started out strong. No, we didn’t need our kids to try a new sport. We didn’t even have mountain bikes for the kids and on one income, it didn’t make sense to buy into yet another sport for which they’d need expensive equipment that they’d just outgrow every year. But thanks anyways Ben. Maybe another year—best of luck putting the program together.

The next week or so (still well before Chugach Mountain Bike Riders—CMBR, Kid’s program began for the summer) he innocently asked if our eldest son could go into town and help his build a bike at a cool bike co-op that lets kids and adults access bike tools, parts and even sometimes whole bikes. You know, as moral support for his kid, make it more fun.

Did you happen to see where this was headed? We didn’t. When our son came home with a donated bike (?—Despite Ben’s talent as a masterful storyteller, I’m still not sure we ever got the whole story here) and lights in his eyes about a whole swarm of kids who were learning how to tear through the trails at Mirror Lake Park, I realized we’d been almost had.

As any stalwart heart that sees the end is near does, we held on faithfully—“but we’ll wait until next year when our daughter will be old enough to join too. Thanks for the bike.”

We didn’t fold until the next day, when Ben showed up with his daughter’s old mountain bike that apparently was just barely too small for her. He showed us where to sign our names and took our money without making us feel too bad about it. There was a victorious glint in his eye, now that I reflect back though.

CMBR Kids was Ben’s creation. Like most activities he immersed himself in (because what did he ever do halfway?), as soon as he fell for something, he started finagling how to get his kids involved and as long as he was researching about how to break the skills down for kids, he might as well extend the knowledge to ALL the kids in his community. Thus CMBR Kids, a summer youth mountain bike club at Mirror Lake Singletrack trails emerged.

After Ben’s horrific passing in 2020, I stumbled into leadership of CMBR Kids in an attempt to make sure his program didn’t disappear too and to relieve his best friend from taking too much on. We were all swimming in grief but managed to put one pedal in front of the other and make it through to fall.

Covid happened to give our community a windfall of money to be directed to job stimulation in Parks and Recreation. Ben and his best buddy Will had been planning to build some homemade jumps and wind a skills course through the woods, between the singletrack and lake front. Because of this P&R Grant, the project turned real.

The grant became the basis for Ben’s Bike Playground—an all out desire to remember Ben’s commitment to his community.

The flurry of planning, more grant acquisitions, fundraising, permits, ordering, budgeting and building have now all mostly run their course.

Next summer, after the final touches are added, the surfaces hardened, Ben’s Bike Playground will open for the community he left behind.

There will always be a Ben-sized hole in the heart of our Chugiak-Eagle River community. There’s no way around it. But we’ve decorated its borders with a bike playground in the woods and hope you’ll come out and ride.

4 thoughts on “Ben’s Bike Playground

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  1. Wendy,
    Thinking about you as I read again all of your very well-written piece about Ben’s Bike Playground. What a gift you have…what a gift you gave. Well done! We miss you, Tristan, and your family and thank you for wonderful memories we treasure.
    Bev Pressman


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