The Power of a Pop-Up Mountain Bike Park in Charlotte, North Carolina

A pop-up mountain bike trail in Charlotte, North Carolina initiated through a collaborative effort of local agencies has offered some residents their first-ever chance to ride a mountain bike trail.
Photo: City of Charlotte

Pop-up art installations are meant to give the person who stumbles upon the exhibit something that they wouldn’t expect to experience on a routine jaunt down the street. Installations immerse participants in art, where they can expand their own perspective and walk away with a new appreciation for something they may have not seen before.

Mountain biking is no doubt an immersive experience and a pop-up mountain bike trail in Charlotte, North Carolina initiated through a collaborative effort of local agencies has offered some residents their first-ever chance to ride a mountain bike trail. After more than a year of COVID delays, the Cordelia Pop-Up Bike Park in Charlotte, North Carolina went off without a hitch.

Kate Cavazza with the Mecklenburg County Public Health Department worked with the City of Charlotte and their Park and Rec department to prop the pop-up right along a high traffic area in the city in her first month off of “COVID duties.”

“The main goal is to really expose people in an urban environment to mountain biking,” Cavazza told us. The park is designed for all ages and abilities and was set up along a greenway so that passers-by could get a glimpse of the bike park. Public bike parks have become much more commonplace in cities throughout the US in recent years, and Cavazza says that they’re also using the pop-up park to gauge citizen interest in a permanent installation.

Cordelia Park has a natural topography for a few lines and switchbacks, and the park had actually been used for cyclocross racing before. The agencies used tape and stakes to map out a trail and laid out some rollers and ramps for both a beginner and intermediate line.

Cavazza said “this was our first stab at showing Park and Rec the versatility of the space and that people have been using it for years and more people will use the facility if indeed it is in place.” They recorded about 600 people that checked out the park over six days.

This year, visitors needed to have their own bike and equipment, but Cavazza mentioned that it seemed like a lot more people had bikes that they purchased throughout the pandemic. The next time they have the pop-up, they’d like to have demo bikes and helmets available for people who are just walking through the area.

The city and health department asked participants to fill out surveys about the pop-up trail after riding, and after a quick review, she says that they were overwhelmingly positive.

“Maybe a permanent facility isn’t that far off. Park and Rec has been especially responsive to this bike park, and if not a permanent bike park in this location we’re looking at other sites for bicycle education and features such as rollers along our greenway system. So, more smaller features along greenways and hopefully a larger bike park in the future.”

In Charlotte, the Park and Rec department recently went through a planning phase and surveyed residents and the second most requested item was natural surface trails. There are mountain bike systems, but they’re mostly advanced and there aren’t many intermediate or beginner trail systems around, said Cavazza. “You have either advanced or you have nothing. So we’re trying to find a balance [and] where we start kids.”

One evening, in one of her favorite moments at the park, Cavazza said a group by the name of Ales and Trails showed up with about 30 members to ride the bike park on “really big, expensive bikes.” Initially, she cautioned everyone to watch out for the kids and make sure they weren’t going too fast.

The group lined up near the bottom of the hill and cheered kids on as they rode down the hills and offered some soft coaching.

“It was really cute,” she said. “That’s the essence of what we’re trying to do, is expose more people to this great sport, and in an urban environment, these kids wouldn’t see these fantastic riders elsewhere and it was a good collaboration between, you know, all ages and abilities, really.”