Dirt World is the brainchild of Richmond residents Jasmine Malabed and Dennis “D2” Hoskins, founders of the Dope Sauce Bike Club, a grassroots program that introduces city kids to cycling of all varieties.
In late 2015 Malabed and Hoskins helped lead the construction of a public pump track at Richmond’s John F. Kennedy Park, an undulating dirt oval that has proven to be a magnet for both local kids and riders from other cities.
The pump track project was supported by the Trust for Public Land (which was directing a major make-over of the park), Rich City Rides (a nonprofit org dedicated to improving Richmond’s physical and economic health through cycling), Action Sports Construction (which lent its track-building expertise) and many others, including volunteers from the neighborhood.
With the success of the pump track, Malabed and Hoskins began thinking bigger, deciding it was time Richmond had a full-blown bicycle skills park, a facility that could help grow the city’s cycling culture by introducing kids to a healthy and challenging alternative sport and providing a hardcore riding spot for more experienced bicyclists. The park, they concluded, should include dirt trails and tracks for all skill levels and should be geared for BMX bikes and mountain bikes.
The movement to create the park grew.
At Rich City Rides, executive director Najari Smith appreciated the ambition and threw his support to the park concept, providing meeting space and playing a key role in launching the project.
Richmond BMX, a loose-knit collection of street and dirt riders, got involved, bringing shovel skills and design savvy.
A licensed landscape architect with over 20 years experience, Jeanine Strickland brought her immense knowledge of parks to the endeavor.
Richmond Friends of Recreation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit org with deep roots in the community, generously agreed to act as fiscal sponsor for the park.
Many area cyclists began offering time and sweat, forming a Steering Committee to make the project happen.
Alex Fowler of Action Sports Construction agreed to orchestrate the building and to translate the many ideas of the Steering Committee and local riders into a coherent vision of awesome stuff to ride.
Eventually, park advocates secured permission to build on a 2.1-acre parcel on the Richmond Greenway. New York City has its fancy and famous High Line Park built on a converted rail line in Manhattan; here in Richmond we have the Greenway, a three-mile long former Santa Fe Railway corridor that is being transformed, with much volunteer labor, into a string of parks and gardens running through the heart of the city.
When Malabed, Hoskins and the rest of the crew adopted this segment of the Richmond Greenway and dubbed it Dirt World, it was basically abandoned and unused empty lot littered with garbage and choked with weeds. Since then, the crew has yanked the weeds, picked up the trash, and brought in tons of dirt and a storage container for equipment. We have built temporary jump lines and begun expanding our pool of volunteers. Our presence has already reduced dumping and other illegal activities.
Now the next step is to raise the money to build the dirt tracks and features and bring in the public park amenities – benches, shade trees, picnic tables, community gardens, bike parking, signage, etc. We are also seeking funds for bikes, helmets, secure storage space, tools and equipment so we can create ongoing programs for neighborhood kids and maintain the park.
When complete, Dirt World will have drastically transformed the area. The graffiti that mars the neighboring the buildings will be replaced with vibrant murals. A unique gateway and park sign will mark the entrance to the park. What was once an ugly empty lot, will be bustling with youth and adults enjoying themselves on two wheels.
In a place with a paucity of outdoor recreational space, locals will have a new spot for birthday parties and social gatherings. Friendships and a sense of community will develop naturally. Older riders will mentor newer riders.
We will foster a culture of stewardship for the park that will prevent the area from returning to its previous depressing state. Locals will help to maintain the dirt features and reshape them.
Eventually, Dirt World will serve as a hub for an array of programs – BMX races, jump jams, day camps and structured afterschool activities, riding and jump building classes, a seminar in action sports video production and photography. We could establish part-time jobs for youth from Richmond, employing them as coaches, teachers, and park monitors.