This past November, Station Mountain Bike Park near Austin, Texas opened its gates to the public for the first time. Built on 120 acres with 370 feet of vertical elevation, the park has 20 different trails for riders of all skill levels, including a jump trail with 75 jumps.
While the park itself is quite impressive, the story behind its creation is even more amazing. Its founder, Rhett Jones, is a high school senior. In the span of just three years, Jones went from a MTB newbie to a bike park owner. Here’s how it happened.
Prior to 2020, mountain biking had never been on Jones’ radar. Then he found some YouTube videos on it and quickly became obsessed. Jones got a bike and started riding with his friends. “We rode six days a week,” he said.
Along with riding, Jones also developed an interest in trail building. He helped with maintaining his local trails and learned as much as he could. “My vision was to ultimately build a bike park.”
Homework as a catalyst
Jones attends high school at Alpha Austin, a non-traditional school located in downtown Austin. According to Jones’ father, Jason, “a major part of its curriculum for high schoolers is to come up with a ‘masterpiece.’” For Jones’ masterpiece, he wanted to create a bike park.
Sounds incredible, right? But Jones’ father wasn’t surprised. “He’s exceptionally bright. We nicknamed him The Border Collie when he was young because he wouldn’t sit still. He’s a doer.”
In the fall of 2022, Jones got to work with others to develop a free, public park in the Lakeway neighborhood outside of Austin. The park had two trails and a pump track and was volunteer built. But Jones wanted far more than just assistance with a small, local park.
Jones started by spending over 300 hours making a 2-minute pitch deck and financial spreadsheets to support his vision. He then messaged 400+ people on LinkedIn with both “mountain biking” and “investor” in their profile, as well as putting out messages on Facebook and X (formerly Twitter).
Jones also started researching potential property locations for the bike park.
“I went on Google Maps and looked for every piece of property with more than 300 feet of vertical elevation that was within an hour and a half of Austin.” Jones came up with 123 potential sites.
According to Jones’ father, “he sent out 123 letters and was told ‘no’ 123 times.” Jones’ father suggested that he hire a land broker. Jones did so, and the land broker ultimately found the property on which the bike park now sits.
Finding investors was the first major challenge
It seems unlikely that a high school student would be able to convince others to invest in such a vision, but Jones believed his age was an asset. “I’m glad that I’m a high schooler. When I was talking to people, they were excited to invest in someone with such youthful passion.”
Jones’ youthful excitement convinced one unlikely investor to become his main financial backer. Scott Hooper, a plumber and small business owner who took up mountain biking at the age of 36, received a text from a friend in June of 2023 about a 17-year-old who was trying to build a bike park. Hooper called Jones and had a long conversation with him. “I wasn’t convinced, so my wife and I made up a long list of questions to ask him.” Jones answered them all openly and honestly.
After spending a lot of time in prayer and having his lawyer check everything out to make sure it was all legitimate, Hooper took the plunge, investing $100K. “It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done. Everyone told me I was stupid.”
Hooper was one of several investors who contributed over $350K to build the bike park. Amazingly, only $19K of that money came from Jones’ family and friends. A real estate investor purchased the land for over $3 million under a secured part-equity locked lease deal.
A next door neighbor and rancher lends a helping hand
Jones admits he is a city boy and did not have a lot of knowledge about the ranchland he secured for the bike park. Fortunately, Justin Vinson stepped in to educate him. Vinson lives on an old family ranch next door to the bike park that’s been in his family for over a hundred years. “Back where we are, there’s 4,000 acres that was originally owned by five families. Everyone who lives there has a familial tie.”
In May of 2023, Vinson learned someone was planning to build a bike park on the land next to his ranch. He started watching out for any activity on the land and saw Jones going to the property one day. Vinson went over there and met Jones.
He gave Jones an oral history of the land and his experiences on it as a child. Vinson knows all about the land, the seasons, and the weather in that area and told Jones he could help him. Jones told Vinson he needed a road built and Vinson agreed to do it.
Additionally, Vinson taught Jones how to operate the windmill that was on the bike park property and educated him about the spring that was on the property, including the neighbors’ water rights to it. According to Vinson, Jones “really started listening and learning about the land.”
Having Vinson next door to the bike park was a real benefit according to Jones. “I went into it not knowing a thing about ranch maintenance and he saved me so many headaches.”
Finding the right trailbuilders
Jones hired 10 different trailbuilders to help make his vision a reality. The main trailbuilder was Greg Daponte with TxTrail Craft. He has done a lot of volunteer work on the trails at Reveille Peak Ranch and Spider Mountain Bike Park. Daponte met Jones through riding and racing Trail Party events.
For Daponte, the opportunity to have the freedom to do what he wanted to do in consideration of Jones’ vision was fantastic. “It was fun working with all the different trailbuilders to get different styles.”
Jones had each trailbuilder work on separate sections of the park in groups. Daponte built the roll-in at the top, the Murica trail, three lines at the bottom of the park that merged, and numerous other sections of trails.
Daponte did run into some challenges during the construction process. “It was super hard to work at the top of the park because there was a lot of limestone but not much dirt.” Daponte made good use of the limestone he pulled up, using it in other areas of the park.
In addition to paid labor, dozens of volunteers contributed thousands of hours toward making the bike park a reality. Among them was Jenn Miller. She and her husband took up mountain biking for the first time in 2022.
While riding at Reveille Peak, Miller and her husband met other riders who had heard about the hype regarding Station Mountain Bike Park. On a whim, they decided to ride out to the property where Jones was building the bike park and say hello. When they drove up, Jones was working with the trail crew. Miller was very impressed by him. “He was so respectful.”
Miller and her husband spent hundreds of hours working at the park. “It was fun to go work with your hands, and there was such a great energy and environment there.”
A boon for the Texas MTB community
During opening weekend, Hooper went around asking riders who came to the park how they felt about it. “Everyone said this is what people here needed. It’s a world-class bike park. It’s brought the riding community together. I believe this is what will put Texas on the map [for mountain biking].”
Miller agreed. “It’s incredible the number of things there are for every skill level and the options to progress. The trails are long, the jump line is really fun, and there’s so many options. You won’t get bored.” Miller believes the park will accelerate the growth of mountain biking in the area. “There are a lot of people out there who are very excited about the park.”
Vinson, too, is happy to have the bike park next door to his ranch. “It’s provided a place for my kids to go work or ride and it’s very safe. I’m not worried for the most part about who’s over there. Mountain bikers are a good group of people.”
Jones was also happy how things went with opening weekend. “It went a lot smoother than expected. Everyone loved the trails and there were only some minor hiccups.” He’s hyped to make the park even better. The trail crew started working on trail edits the Monday after opening weekend.
Jones’ new future as a manager and entrepreneur
For Jones, the experience of creating a bike park was amazing. “It’s honestly really fun to own a park and see people hyped on the park and the trails.” Plus, it helped him to grow as a person. “I’ve matured a lot throughout the building process.”
But Jones didn’t do it alone. “My parents have been really supportive of me throughout all of this.” His father helped him out with advice about accounting, payroll, and taxes since he owns his own business. Jones’ school also connected him to mentors in the world of entrepreneurship. And Jones was quick to give credit to all the investors, trailbuilders, and volunteers who helped make the bike park a reality.
Whatever Jones’ future holds, he sees bike park ownership as part of it. “This is what I want to do. After Station Mountain, I want to make the next Whistler.”