Mountain bike skills park a unique addition to adventure sports scene in Happy Valley
2023 will be the first full year for the new mountain bike skills park at Harvest Fields, providing an outdoor recreation resource unique to the region and fit for riders of all ages.
Rollers, jumps, low ladders, turns, slab gardens, berms: the skills park has a mix of features that can help riders gain the confidence they need to safely tackle bigger challenges like the trails in Rothrock State Forest. The Harvest Fields complex in Boalsburg —which already features the community trails — has a new addition this year as the mountain bike skills park opens to the public for its first season of riding.
This corner of Happy Valley is quickly becoming a destination spot for adventure sports. Climb Nittany, a climbing gym, opened next door in 2021 and features 10,000 square feet of climbing wall and a boulder island.
With a grand opening slated for May 20, the skills park, like its community trails counterpart, will be open to the public this year, except for during bad weather conditions that could potentially damage the earthworks.
Joe Littaker of Black Diamond Trail Designs in North Carolina, the skills park’s builders, said there are few parks like the one at Harvest Fields.
“When I saw the plans for the Harvest Fields, I was like, this is a stepping stone for the future of municipal bike parks,” he said.
In just a 3.5-acre space, designers and Black Diamond could recreate obstacles and terrain despite the flat topography. For the past five years, Black Diamond has been involved in mountain bike trail construction in the Mid-Atlantic and other locations in the U.S. such as Colorado. Designers and builders took into account the sustained acceleration of the park as a whole by avoiding too-steep slopes and adding features that slow speed where necessary. They also take into account other factors like wind direction and sun position, aiming for flowing tracks that balance fun thrills and safety.
“These parks are designed to work just about anywhere, and that’s what’s so beautiful about it… you can basically put one of these parks anywhere you want to,” Littaker said.
Nittany Mountain Biking Association undertook the fundraising and organization for the skills park and trails, with a generous donation of land from Calvary Harvest Fields church. NMBA President Rob Brawley has been involved with the club for about 10 years, and said the members of the club shaped the direction and rallied behind the project.
“The beauty of our project, the skills park as well as the community trails, was twofold,” Brawley said. “It was an excellent project to focus on, it was very finite, very easy to see. But it also felt a very necessary niche to get people from, we’ll say, whatever skill level they were at, to the skill level required to ride in our state forests, which is pretty high.”
Brawley added that many trails within Rothrock are legacy trails and not designed exclusively for mountain biking, featuring rough terrain not suitable for beginners and novices.
“So they’re not all to-use design,” Brawley said. “And they’re very rough and rocky and steep and challenging for all types of users. But for riders in particular, you have to be pretty skilled to get there.”
The skills park and community trails have a much lower skill barrier to entry, and can help encourage young riders to get into the sport and ride with their families.
"the skills park and community trails have a much lower skill barrier to entry, and can help encourage young riders to get into the sport and ride with their families"
- Rob Brawley, NMBA President
How the public can get involved in trail maintenance at Harvest Fields
Trails in Pennsylvania’s state forests are open to the public and enjoyed by hikers, runners, mountain bikers and hunters, but the trail maintenance is often undertaken by volunteer organizations like NMBA.
This year, NMBA is hoping to recruit community volunteers for trail maintenance at Harvest Fields, a much less daunting task than driving out gravel roads and hiking into the corners of Rothrock.
Josh Stapleton, NMBA member and an organizer for the Harvest Fields projects, said NMBA is aiming to get groups on board for monthly community trail maintenance during the riding season. Groups would show up with the muscle power, and NMBA would provide the tools, training and leadership.
“Harvest provides a much less intimidating environment,” Stapleton said. “It’s way more accessible...there’s multiple parking areas and you can get to any site in the trail system in less than a 10-minute walk. You don’t feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere.”
Much in the same way that the trails and skills park at Harvest Fields can help people build the confidence to ride, the maintenance program could give people the confidence and interest to join in on state forest projects.
To connect with NMBA, visit nittanymba.org.