A popular youth bike park may soon go by the wayside due to insurance issues with a new site, planned to replace an existing bike track that could be decommissioned because of noise complaints.
The Jackson Town Council learned at a workshop last week that plans to open a new bicycle “pump track” on land offered by a local church have been scrapped because the nonprofit that was to manage the site was unable to obtain affordable insurance. A nearby single-lane bicycling loop will remain untouched.
Last year, town staff informed the council, and the council approved, a plan to decommission the existing pump track in conjunction with the opening of a new pump track on land owned by the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole. The new track was to be maintained by the nongovernmental entities Friends of Pathways and Mountain Bike the Tetons.
By early May the project had been funded and was ready to be constructed, trail crews had staked out the planned pump track, and dirt was brought in, Pathways Coordinator Brian Schilling said.
“And then, unfortunately, the project was basically derailed by complications related to insurance policies for Friends of Pathways,” Schilling said.
Friends of Pathways was unable to obtain liability insurance that would protect the church at an affordable price. Schilling said the nonprofit was quoted about $25,000 per year for such a policy, a price that was financially unfeasible. Friends of Pathways could have insured it for less if it was willing to staff the pump track with a person overseeing it during all hours of operation. That was also not a viable option due to cost.
“So despite the fact that the church was very supportive of the project, the community supports it, the town is behind it and all the project partners were very, very excited about it, it ran into this quagmire of insurance and liability which has basically brought it to a halt,” Schilling said. “That’s been incredibly frustrating and really a rather disheartening outcome, given all the hard work and good-faith efforts that everyone has put into this so far.”
Schilling said the change in plans was significant enough that town staff felt it should be brought back before the council to see if it affected its prior decision, because last year it had approved the simultaneous closure of the existing pump track and opening of the new, planned track at the church.
“Unfortunately, at this point I don’t have any magic bullets or things to pull out of my pocket to solve this issue,” Schilling said.
No other options for a different location have been explored, he said, and he had no recommendations for the council for next steps regarding removal of the existing pump track.
Schilling extended thanks to he church and also neighbors of the existing track, John and Jenny Graham, who are most directly affected by the noise coming from it. He said they have worked graciously with the town of Jackson “to resolve the impact that this park has created for them.” But he said the noise problems were simply too significant for them to abide.
“I know that there have been accusations of NIMBY-ism [Not In My Back Yard] on their part, but I think that’s ill-founded,” Schilling said. “And I know that some of that is inevitable, but I’d like people to know that they have been incredibly patient and collaborative while we and the project partners have worked to come up with a solution that resolves and alleviates what I think are significant impacts on them.”
The modest-size track sits approximately 20 feet from the back yards of multiple neighboring homes, each of which has 4- to 6-foot-high privacy fences.
At least one local resident — Tom Athey, who is the marketing and events coordinator for Hoback Sports and sits on the board of Mountain Bike the Tetons — hinted at NIMBY-ism and said neighboring residents should have been prepared for the noise that accompanies kids playing when they bought homes near Jackson Hole Middle School.
“It ... is absurd that these people are so bothered by the sounds of children playing that they’re trying to take this amenity away from the whole community,” Athey wrote in public comment to the council.
Athey said the pump track is crucial to Mountain Bike the Tetons’ youth training programs and there needs to be more tolerance for the greater good of the community.
“What if kids start playing in the street near these people’s house? Will they call to get the street shut down next? This is ridiculous [and] you should throw this out and focus on something that is worthy of your time,” he wrote.
Mayor Pete Muldoon thanked Schilling for his work on the project and lamented that “it appears, to me at least, that there isn’t a way forward” on it. Muldoon said perhaps in the future, when the town’s fiscal position improves, it could somehow facilitate the project by leasing the land from the church or covering the insurance.
Councilor Jim Stanford asked Schilling if landscaping modifications paid for by the town could mitigate noise problems at the park.
“If I felt that landscaping would solve the issue of impacts to the neighbors, I would definitely make that as a recommendation,” Schilling responded. “The proximity of the pump track loop is so close to their house and their property that landscaping and/or fencing just doesn’t seem like it will be sufficient to eliminate those impacts.”
Councilor Jonathan Schechter asked Schilling about a resident’s suggestion that the town use school district property to the east for the track, and specifically how long it would take Schilling and the project partners to work through that process. Schilling said such an arrangement would likely have to be a town-county partnership in the management of the track, much like the skate park, and would take “several to many months” to work out details and get that track built.
Lea Colasuonno, attorney for the town of Jackson, said insurance problems arise on such projects, even if the land is owned or leased by the town, because its policy covers only town employees and can’t be extended to employees of another organization. Because the town doesn’t employ anyone with expertise in the construction or maintenance of such a bike track, the agreement calls for Mountain Bike the Tetons to maintain it, causing an insurance issue.
Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson inquired if the neighbors would be amenable to leaving the pump track intact through the summer months while other options were explored.
“The input I’ve had from the neighbors is that the sooner the existing pump track is removed, the better,” Schilling replied. “I’d prefer not to leave them in limbo indefinitely on this. They’ve been very patient.”
John Graham, one of the neighbors Schilling referenced when discussing the noise from the track, spoke to the council at the meeting and said the neighbors are looking for a concrete date on the track’s closure.
“In terms of the delay on it, we’ve been trying to work behind the scenes with Brian for a really long time to resolve this,” Graham said. “Certainly, a little delay we could maybe live with, but getting a firm date on there would really mean a lot to us.”
Graham acknowledged the popularity of the pump track for local youth and said he will absolutely advocate in favor of a new track “on the right site.”
Though Schilling came to the meeting looking for the council to possibly affirm the decision made last year to remove the track, even without a viable replacement site yet identified, Stanford and Levinson asked that the council continue the issue to an upcoming meeting for more consideration.
For now the matter is not entirely dead, as the council hinted at hope for finding a new location or a better solution to the noise issue.
“I know that Brian and everyone that made public comment wants a decision, but I think it’s worth 10 more minutes of discussion and I agree we don’t have that right now. … People do care about what is going to happen here, and I would be OK continuing it to our next meeting,” Levinson said, and the board agreed to do that.