18 & Under: Teen Tackles Zoning Permits, Fundraising to Build Public Bike Park in Essex

Andrew Cimonetti
Andrew Cimonetti rips it up on his bike.

Most people who grace the pages of Vermont Sports do so because of their exceptional athletic achievements. But one doesn’t have to be a future Olympian to earn recognition in this magazine. He or she merely has to display love and commitment of their sport. Whether we’re blessed with athletic ability or not, our passion for the outdoors and the countless ways we enjoy it is a common thread that links the readers of this magazine and, in particular, the athletes featured in it.

I mention this fact because this month’s athlete featured in 18 & Under, Andrew Cimonetti, is being profiled not for his athletic accomplishments, but for his contributions to the betterment of his community. To be sure, from my conversation with him, I get the sense Andrew is a good athlete: “I’ve been biking all my life. My training wheels came off pretty early,” he says. “I started out with mountain biking, and I raced cross-country for a while. After a while, I just kind of discovered that racing wasn’t my thing, so I got into the freestyle aspect of it.” However, Andrew’s claim to fame is his significant volunteer efforts in the construction of a freestyle bike park in Essex Junction, to be located in the current park on Maple Street.

A freestyle bike park is akin to a playground for cyclists. According to the Essex Junction Recreation and Parks website, where the plans for the Maple Street Bike Park are outlined, freestyle parks contain a variety of jumps, banked turns (also called berms), pump tracks, and wooden features that can be ridden with a freestyle mountain bike or BMX bike. Plans for the proposed park in Essex include two pump tracks and several dirt jump lines ranging from beginner to expert level.

In February 2010, Andrew and Kahlil Zaloom, an avid Chittenden County cyclist, formed a committee to explore the possibility of building the bike park.

“A group of riders from Essex noticed that the closest bike park to us was in Johnson—45 minutes away,” Andrew said. “Then we realized that we had an open space at the Maple Street Park that’s perfectly sloped for a bike park. At first it was all fun, and then some of the older guys and I thought that we should start the official process of trying to get the park built.”

As with any project that will have a significant impact on a community, the construction of the Maple Street Bike Park is a complex, at times slow, process: acquiring zoning permits, fundraising, community outreach. Even as some of the riders who pioneered the idea shied away from this responsibility, Andrew, a sophomore at Essex High School, stuck with it through thick and thin.

“I think I’ve only missed one of our meetings, and I’ve helped organize all the fundraising events. Most of the kids that we were working with really just wanted to dig and build the park itself. There wasn’t a ton of people to handle the paperwork part of it, and the committee slimmed down to three or four people last winter. We had a few bumps in the road. I had never really dealt with official government forms and applying for zoning permits. I just learned as I went. Once you get used to it, it’s pretty simple. It’s actually kind of fun, but was kind of intimidating at first.”

Kahlil speaks highly of Andrew’s volunteer efforts as well. “Andrew’s really stuck with it all the way from planning and zoning meetings to selling cupcakes and T-shirts,” he says. “He engages in fundraising efforts that other kids shy away from. He’s been involved in every aspect of it and, as a 15-year-old, gets excited about bureaucracy and civic engagement. He’s very mature for his age.”

Talking with Andrew for five minutes about the project reveals his excitement and passion for making it happen. “It will be one of the first bike parks that’s in a public park,” he says. “At Maple Street we have playing fields, basketball courts, a pool. There’s never been a dirt jump at a public park—it’s not really an East Coast thing. Most dirt jumps are built by kids in the back of the woods. This is a great project to get the bike parks out of the woods and into the public parks. I would say about 60 percent of the riders around here don’t have their driver’s license, so it’s hard for them to get to Johnson. I think when this park is done, it’s going to be a pretty big hit.”

The Maple Street Bike Park is still very much a grassroots project. Kahlil estimates that they’ve only raised 10 percent of the necessary funds. Nevertheless, things look bright for the project’s future. They have two grants pending, both of which would significantly ease the financial burden of building the park. And with dedicated volunteers like Andrew, mountain bikers and freestyle bikers in Chittenden County will have an exciting venue to look forward to in the near future.

Interested in learning more about the Maple Street Bike Park? Visit the project’s Facebook page—created by Andrew—at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Maple-Street-Bike-Park/122220154457888.