By Elizabeth McGuire
In the mid 1990s, a flat, empty lot sat on the western edge of downtown Austin, virtually ignored by its neighboring law firms, beauty salons and other small businesses. Developers, too, had dismissed this spot near 9th St. and Lamar Blvd. because of its floodplain status. Besides the substantial shade trees, the property held nothing but a couple of large piles of dirt (dumped by the city or a construction company—nobody knew for sure).
At some point, local BMX bikers started building jumps out of the piles. They shaped and packed the dirt, using water carried from nearby Shoal Creek. Soon they had three solid jumps. For years the local riders kept digging and packing and adding more and more jumps to the area, until eventually the flat lot was covered in slick hills, wide bowls and steep volcano-shaped mounds. “9th Street” was born. Now 25 years later, the park is a globally known destination among BMX enthusiasts, home to a tight-knit community, and a source of pride for the city.
A small team of volunteers serve as adopters of both 9th Street and Duncan Park, which is directly across the street. One of these dedicated guardians, Todd Moon, began riding at 9th Street in the early years and stayed involved to help protect and expand it.
“Thousands of people come here from around the world. It’s such a unique spot, particularly because of its location in the middle of the city and because it is all been built by hand,” Moon said. “City regulations say we can’t bring in any outside dirt or bulldozers to the park, so these hills are all dug and made with shovels…if you’ve ever made a pile of dirt that big and packed it in, well you know it’s a lot of work!”
By their very nature, BMX dirt trails require ongoing maintenance. The 9th Street crew organizes designated dig days, but also encourages riders to come out and work whenever they have a free hour or two.
Moon calls the park the ultimate work in progress. A few years ago they added a family area complete with a kids’ pump track and benches for parents.
Moon is currently working with APF to secure a grant that would help them make the park more enjoyable and inclusive for a broader population of riders.
A few things the grant would cover:
- Large, limestone blocks to serve as seating and a natural barrier between street/sidewalk traffic and the park.
- Signage and an informational kiosk that explains the park history, riding guidelines, and a color-coded map indicating the different routes and levels, much like a ski resort map.
- Revegetation to keep the land stable and the park attractive.
At the last It’s My Park Day, while crowds of volunteers spread mulch around the 9th Street trees, Mayor Adler stopped by to cheer the efforts.
“It meant a lot to us,” said Moon. “We gave the mayor a 9th Street shirt and he gave us a letter of support for our grant. He said he used to work at a law firm nearby and would bring his lunch down here and watch the bikes. A lot of city stakeholders have watched the park grow up, and we’re excited to continue to improve it so it remains one of Austin’s treasures.”
Moon hopes every improvement will engage a wider audience of visitors and bring young riders to the sport.
“It’s hard to explain what riding BMX trails feels like. There’s no competition really. It’s just freestyle. If you’re riding well, it’s like a dirt wave and you’re just cruising. You don’t even pedal. If you land good, you keep your momentum and then you just keep going. It’s like flying. It’s just the best feeling!”
People + Parks is a series by writer and photographer Elizabeth McGuire and is dedicated to showcasing the people who make our work possible. Check out other stories by choosing the People + Parks category on our blog.