The Herald | Trailblazing

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Story by Allen Laman
Photos by Marlena Sloss

Coleman Lovelace was spinning his wheels.

He was weak. He was selfish. He didn’t know how to make decisions. The Jasper man wanted more out of life, and so he set out to change the negative cycles that controlled him.

A pair of handlebars helped correct his course. Riding a bike changed his life.

As an adult, mountain biking taught him how to fail. How to fall down, get back up and struggle toward a goal. You see, the simple act of pedaling forward propelled him to more than a big jump or a new trick.

It guided him to a mindful life.

Coleman spearheaded the construction of Birk & Berg Bike Park in Jasper to share the revelations that can come to riders while gliding on a pair of wheels. Through his steering, a whole new community has assembled under the Jasper Bike Club umbrella at the expanding mecca on 15th Street.

The club's first full season of operation wrapped up earlier this month. Before it did, the public mountain bike park's leader spoke of the impact that the tracks have already had on Dubois County.

Coleman Lovelace of Jasper helps Keenen Bieker, 12, of Celestine, work on his wheelie balance at a Jasper Bike Club meeting at Birk & Berg Bike Park in Jasper on Oct. 13. Coleman believes biking teaches kids resilience. “There’s not too many things in life that you can fall in the dirt and try it again,” he said. 

“Somebody had a pretty good saying about this,” said Coleman, who lives in Jasper. “This is magic that’s being created here.”

Coleman first dug into bike park building at Scales Lake Park in Boonville around 2015. Every Sunday for about five years, he’d wake up before the sunrise, drive to the expansive park and work for six hours before heading home. Sometimes, he’d go several times throughout the week to tend to his work.

That experience allowed him to see the magic that a bike park can generate firsthand. He recalled how about 100 children would hop on their bicycles after school and ride 2 miles across the town to the park. Other community members saw the magic there, too, and began donating thousands of dollars to continue beefing up the site.

“And finally, after five years, I finally knew either something was going to start, or this is just going to disappear,” Coleman said of his vision to bring a bike park to Jasper. “Somebody in this community had to step up and do something.”

And so he did. He had already crafted a neighborhood pump track in his yard, but in the spring of 2019, Coleman began hosting a weekly bike meeting at the Parklands of Jasper for both children and adults. Back then, about 15 kids of all different ages would show up to ride on the paved paths at the Jasper park — and learn how to become better mountain bikers.

Patrick Verkamp, 11, of Schnellville, left, rides the toddler pump track with other kids at Birk & Berg Bike Park on Oct. 6.

They’d also take trips to area bike parks. During one of those excursions, a parent asked Coleman: Why do I have to drive all the way to Boonville when we can build this in Jasper? Soon after, that parent set up a meeting with city leadership that would spark the creation of Birk & Berg.

Coleman was directed to Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools, and the district’s school board approved the building of a mountain bike trail on land the school owns between the Parklands and Jasper High School.

To date, Coleman and a team of volunteers have converted that once dense thicket into a still-hidden gem that includes a toddler pump track, beginner trail and flow trail. The bones of an advanced pump track intended for more experienced riders sit in the back of the park.

Coleman and the volunteers methodically move and mold dirt throughout the grounds each week to create tall turns, short humps and more handcrafted features that create thrills while also challenging riders to assess risks as they zip through the woods.

Coleman devises the plan, and his grassroots team helps him tweak and execute it. Brady Walton, owner of Deep Roots Landscaping LLC, helped move dirt at a recent bike park volunteer day gathering. He explained that he views the site as another outlet for social interaction for kids — and their parents, too.

So many mountain bikers came to the group’s weekly ride meetups this season that the trails became congested on meeting nights. As the calendar flips ahead, Brady and other volunteers are working to expand the site’s offerings.

“Honestly, we continue to build the park up, and what’s going to be nice is when we have separate areas for kids,” he said. “Because currently, we really only had one area and one good set of trails. And it’s been hard, when you get 40 kids out here, for everybody to hit the jumps and things like that. You end up with long lines and kids backed up.”

Conner Gress gets air on the flow trail while Coleman Lovelace, both of Jasper, follows at Birk & Berg Bike Park in Jasper on Oct. 13.

Like many of its members, Katie Verkamp and her children found the Jasper Bike Club through a post on Facebook. Katie remembered being impressed when her Schnellville family first visited the course. Her kids didn’t have much bike riding experience prior to meeting up with the group, but at weekly meetings, adult leaders teach attendees riding fundamentals.

“I think it makes the area more well-rounded,” Katie said of the park. “There’s so many avenues to be able to play sports, but there’s not as many avenues to be active that aren’t sport-central. And so, it’s nice to be able to get together and ride and enjoy the companionship of the community while doing something that’s enjoyable and new and interesting.”

She believes her children have grown more determined since the park became a part of their lives. They’ve also grown closer to each other. Katie explained that the kids get excited to show each other tricks and share their experiences.

Her daughter, Maggie, 10, recalled her first trip to the Jasper grounds with glee.

“I was thinking like, ‘This is awesome!’” she exclaimed. “‘We need to go here every week!'”

She was drawn to the park “because we got to ride bikes around, they’ve got a really cool trail and it just seems cool and fun,” she explained.

Ethan Trusty of Huntingburg pushes his daughter, Amelia, 5, on the toddler pump track during her first time at Birk & Berg Bike Park in Jasper on Oct. 6.

Jennings Neukam of Dubois likes riding fast, and that’s something he can do at the new park. He also recognizes the personal growth the riders carry away from the park when they hop off their bikes and leave.

“It helps me know what I can do,” he said of the confidence he has gained at Birk & Berg. “Like, know myself and my capabilities.”

In the future, Coleman would like to bring interconnected bike parks and trails to other parts of the area, too. In a followup interview for this story, he invited the city to partner with his club to build another bike trail for kids. He has already seen the impact that Birk & Berg has had on area youth.

“It’s the coolest thing in the world to see, like even my son, who struggled with confidence issues when he was really, really young … to where he’s like opening up around teenagers,” Coleman said. “And he’s coming out of his shell. And I think that has to be kind of multiplying and taking the butterfly effect out here. Because seeing 50 or 60 kids coming out here on a regular day basis is pretty amazing.”

It’s true that the free course is designed to build courage and resilience. But in Coleman’s mind, the twisting, turning and jump-filled dirt path also has the power to shift the way that biking is viewed in Dubois County.

Mountain biking changed his life. And now, the Birk & Berg Bike Park is shaping the lives of many other community members.

“It’s definitely one of those places that they’re finding themselves and finding confidence,” Coleman said of those who ride at the burgeoning park. “I think we’ve all had that situation in life, a job interview or anything to where you’re really, really scared.”

He continued: “And if you can build patterns and habits of just saying yes and fighting through the pain, God, man, you find a lot in yourself. I don’t know what else does that in life.”

Katie Verkamp of Schnellville, right, holds her son, Jack, 5 months, as she helps her son, Simon, 4, up from a fall on the toddler pump track while Coleman Lovelace of Jasper, left, and his wife, Jennifer, help at Birk & Berg Bike Park on Oct. 13.