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Opportunity Knocks: Outer Harbor Urban Bike Park

We have a tremendous opportunity at hand. A proposal for a new Outer Harbor Urban Bike Park has been presented to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) by the Western New York Mountain Bicycling Association (WNYMBA). The plan calls for 10 acres of the existing 200 acres of waterfront property to be converted into an interactive trail-scape for cyclists of all abilities. 

To date, there are those who would like to see this prime Outer Harbor acreage set aside for the development of mixed use buildings. That does not look like it’s going to happen. Another faction of people want to see this land preserved as an Olmstedian park. That probably won’t happen either. Now, there is a group that is proposing that ten acres of land be dedicated to an Outer Harbor Urban Bike Park. The proposal appears to be gaining traction.

To me, an Urban Bike Park could be the a great use for the designated Outer Harbor parcel that sits to the south of the Bell Slip (see below). I recently met up with Joe Crumlish (WNYMBA treasurer) and Jim Allen (WNYMBA advisory board) who were both happy to talk about the potential of the Outer Harbor Urban Bike Park plan. 

Since 1992 the WNYMBA has been pushing for bike trails in WNY, where none previously existed – think Sprague Brook Park and Hunters Creek Park. Before that, there was no safe place to ride, although the activity itself was significantly gaining in popularity across the country. By working with government bodies (MOUs with Erie County), a NYS DEC trail network was established that is, today, just short of 100 miles. 

Now, we must remember that these are shared trails, where all sorts of non-motorized activities are permitted, including hiking, mountain biking and X-country skiing. The same would be true at the Outer Harbor. Another thing to remember is that these are simply dirt trails, where no trees are cut down. The Outer Harbor trails would be designed to incorporate native plant species that would attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The trails could also incorporate bird habitats.

The WNYMBA has been in conversations with the ECHDC regarding the potential use of this land for trails since 2015. The bike trails are included in the current Master Plan for the Outer Harbor (the first Master Plan was dedicated more to housing and development). That means that the WNYMBA has been given the official nod. But as we all know, sometimes the ‘official nod’ is not enough to enact a plan. Therefore, there is a push to tune the community into the idea, to see if the plan might gain some additional traction.

Mountain bike enthusiasts such as Ethan Johnson, co-owner of Campus Wheelworks on Elmwood Avenue, are amped up about the possibility of having bike trails at the Outer Harbor. “Campus WheelWorks is 100% behind the mountain bike park project for the Outer Harbor,” says Johnson. “Mountain biking has been my favorite pastime for as long as I can remember. We currently take groups of people up to an hour away from our location on Elmwood Avenue to experience the sport for themselves. Having a mountain bike destination in downtown Buffalo would be huge for the city of Buffalo. This space would open new opportunities for school clubs, youth, families and adults experience the joys of mountain biking. We support the ECHDC and WNYMBA in their partnership to bring this gem to Buffalo.”

This space would open new opportunities for school clubs, youth, families and adults experience the joys of mountain biking.

Ethan is the same guy who brought Cyclocross to Delaware Park. At the time, people (including myself) thought that he was crazy. Personally, I never thought that the Olmsted Conservancy would go for it. But they did, and today the annual event is a real boon, attracting cycling enthusiasts from all across the region.

According to Joe, the wants and the needs of the bike enthusiasts and the nature enthusiasts are not mutually exclusive. “Being in tune with nature is what we do,” he says. “This is not the Lancaster National Speedway. This is not gonzo downhill mountain biking. This is for everyone, all ages and abilities. These are primarily introductory recreational trails where people can practice. We want to bring the same excitement to the Outer Harbor that the Slow Roll brought to Buffalo. Heck, someone could ride a Reddy Bike on this trail if they wanted to. At the same time, there would be cycling events held on occasion, but for the most part this is a laid back riding environment.”

Joe also pointed out that dozens and dozens of other cities have built mountain bike trails into their park systems. “It’s a great place for people to go and participate in a healthy activity. It’s accessible to everyone. It gets people outdoors, and would put Buffalo on the map for having such an amenity. There’s even a beginner’s pump track and a slider track (for kids). We can maintain rain gardens, milkweed patches, and bird habitat, and at the same time incorporate trails, map boards, picnic tables, and a shelter with bike amenities. The area that we are looking at is the south side of the Bell Slip (see below). The WNYMBA would build and maintain the trails – our association is a Chapter Club of the International Mountain Bike Association based out of Boulder Colorado.”

According the WNYMBA, the initially proposed plan has already been downsized in scale. Unfortunately, the ECHDC has not released the scaled down plan, which would provide us with the full scope of the project.

It wasn’t that long ago that Buffalo did not have a skate plaza. Today, skaters flock to LaSalle Park to ride the course. Now we’re looking at building out an Urban Bike Park that, I believe, would fit in with the newfound vision of the Outer Harbor. This plan is something that we should all be taking a closer look at. It would be a significant attraction in the summer for cyclists and hikers, and in the winter it would be popular with cyclists and X-country skiers. There are no engines, which means that there is relatively little noise, and no pollution. Maybe an observation deck could be built that would offer visitors a view of the entire Outer Harbor, including a nice vantage point onto the course? Or… have you ever heard of the mountain bike and X-country ski friendly Buffalo Gondola Project?

To me, this sounds like a win-win for everyone.

Photos: WNYMBA

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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