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What 3 teens learned in 18-month campaign to get Gage Park bike track

"Boring" Gage Park is now exciting for youth, say Isaac ​Neven, 13, Brett Bailey,15, and Frieda Sinclair, 16. Here's how the three teens navigated city hall bureaucracy to get it done.

The Gage Park bike pump track opened Saturday after more than a year of bureaucratic hurdles

When Isaac Neven began trying to pitch the city on building a bike skills pump track in Gage Park, he was a lowly Grade 6-er.

Now, about to start Grade 8, he speaks about the bureaucratic hurdles he and his friends cleared with a seasoned swagger.

They were worried about having youth, in the park, with their bikes, causing trouble. But our plan was to have youth in the park, with their bikes, having something to do.- Frieda Sinclair, 16, Crown Point resident

​Neven, 13, worked with pals and fellow mountain bikers Brett Bailey, now 15, and Frieda Sinclair, 16, to get a new bike pump track installed in Gage Park. 

The youth were joined sometimes by others from the Crown Point neighbourhood and aided by Jeff Neven, Isaac's dad and a member of the Crown Point community planning council.

Over the last year-and-a-half, they met with parks and recreation staff, presented more than once to the city's Public Works committee, talked with councillors and pleaded at five meetings with Crown Point neighbourhood groups to sanction the track, which formally opened Saturday.

They met up with CBC Hamilton this week while other kids whizzed by on the track to share some of their experiences navigating city processes.

What was it like going to the city with an idea?

Brett Bailey: We were all a bit nervous. It's the city. Not too many get the city to do things. You've got to be complaining a lot, and it's got to be a really big issue for them to speak up and say they're going to do something. So for them to listen to the three of us, it was kinda cool. I liked it. 

Frieda Sinclair: I don't actually know a lot about city council, and the steps you go through, so at the beginning, I didn't really know what we'd be doing. 

Brett: I guess the most interesting was figuring out the process to get the pump track. There's all these different stages. All these different people at the city that you have to go through. 

Frieda: Never just one meeting. 

Brett: Like just a couple of weeks ago, I found out the city has a "risk management" office. I was like, "That's a thing?" He came here and he talked to us about some of his concerns about the pump track. 

Were there any other curveballs?

Isaac Neven: The Friends of Gage Park were highly against this. I think they still are, a bit. They don't want teenagers and they're kind of worried about graffiti, litter and stuff like that. 

Frieda: I think the problem was that they were worried about having youth, in the park, with their bikes, causing trouble. But our plan was to have youth in the park, with their bikes, having something to do. Because youth are around here anyways. So giving them something productive to do and giving them something to work on daily, we thought it was better. 

Before you got this project off the ground, how would you describe Gage Park?

Brett: Boring. 

Frieda: I didn't hang out here. I took kids if I babysat them to the playground. But there was nothing for youth.

Isaac: I came here on my bike and I would literally just follow this gravel path around the park and go back home. I had nothing else to do. 

Frieda: It's definitely a beautiful park. I could take a walk and appreciate the beautifulness but I wouldn't do anything in it.

What do you feel now that you're sitting next to this track? 

Isaac: It feels pretty good, especially to see the pump track once it's done. Seeing how much use it's getting. We have a counter, and we picked up 50,000 laps as of last Wednesday. So it might be over 100,000 laps now, and it's been open for just about two weeks.

Frieda: It's in pretty much continuous use, dawn till dusk.

How long did you think it would take? 

Brett: I thought it would take as long as it took. 

You were ready for this to stretch into your Grade 10 year?

Brett: Yeah. 

Isaac: [Laughing] I thought it'd take like half that. 

Brett: I knew it wouldn't go up instantly. It's something new for the city.

Have other people been telling you about their ideas for things they want to build?

Brett: All the time! I hear crazy stuff. 'Why don't you guys build a jump line over there?' Well, this is a pilot project. Give it a chance for now.

Isaac: Just an hour ago I was sitting over there and a guy told me 'I really love this but I'd love to see something a bit bigger.'

If someone approached you with an idea for something they want the city to do, what would you tell them?

Brett: I would tell them to plan very carefully. There's going to be problems here and there that the city will face you against. 

Frieda: But I'd definitely tell them to go for it. Because even if you go for it, you make the proposal, you go to city council — even if city council said no, at least you have the experience. At least you tried. At least you learned what you have to do and how you have to do it. And then the next idea you can try again. 

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