With the demise of the Igloo and the closing of Skatebarn in Washington, the Northwest has been left with a shortage of indoor parks for more than a year. Rainy street sessions and, maybe more commonly, snowboarding have been the norm. This situation is about to change. Over the past few months, Joe Prisel has been building a masterpiece in a highway-side warehouse in Northern Washington.
The older crowd may know Joe as an original Chenga local who rode in the BS contests around the turn of the century. Joe had a long riding career in both bmx and mountain bikes, but perhaps more impressive is his career as a park builder. Joe is the man behind the Lumberyard in Portland, the Flow Skatepark in Columbus, and many of the features at Ray’s Mountain Bike Park in Cleveland and Milwaukee.
Burlington Bike Park follows in the footsteps of Joe’s past work, but this version has an excellent twist. It’s an indoor dirt park, and it’s one of the first in the world. The park itself is what you would expect from an experienced builder with the resources to build whatever he wants. Although the park accommodates all skill levels, the main section of the park features landings stacked eight feet tall and seemingly endless transfer lines.
If all goes according to plan, the park will become a cornerstone of the Northwest scene. The Northwest has long been a region where riders have much in common, but are fragmented by borders and distance. With the quality of the current build, the project’s potential for growth and its central location (about 20 minutes South of Bellingham), the park has the potential to bring riders from across the region together for epic sessions for years to come.
Interview by Aaron Gates. All photos by Tony Archibeque Jr.
AG: Let’s start out with how this park came about and why it ended up in Burlington.
JP: It was originally started as a bmx track. They built the building for the bmx track, actually built the entire bmx track and then there was a lot of kickback from bmx racing, I don’t know the whole story, but there was a lot of things that they weren’t allowed to do. It wasn’t going to be a good business decision to keep it as a bmx track, so we contacted the building owner and basically gave him a proposal to turn it into a freestyle park. We don’t need to worry about being sanctioned for an event, we can be open as much as we want and we have a broader spectrum of riders. The building was here, the dirt was here, and we just came in and made it ours.
AG: So going from [The Lumberyard], what was the opportunity that you guys saw coming up here to do a whole new park?
JP: Well, from the start, when I first started building ramps 15-20 years ago, I always wanted to have one myself. That was the goal.
Working at Ray’s was great, [they] put me on salary, insurance, all that good stuff. Something inside me just wanted something of my own. I quit that to do the Lumberyard with Will and Michael. They had a plan, they were getting going and they needed a builder. I picked up and moved out here and was happy, I was probably going to stay there forever.
It was just one of those things where the opportunity came up and then bam, instantly it’s back in my head where I can have something of my own. We scrambled with the proposal, we got it together as soon as we could because the building owner was going to have all the dirt removed. He was going to turn this in to mini storage, so we had to act fast.
The building owner is amazing – he doesn’t ride, but he gets it. He did his research on me, and what [the park] could possibly end up being. He’s full in.
AG: Let’s go back to the beginning. I think in bmx, what most people would know you from, at least from my generation would be as a Chenga local.
JP: Yeah, I mean, the best years of my life that I’ve ridden [were] at Chenga, no doubt about it. [I] made some of the best friends, rode probably the hardest. I traveled a lot as well, but just knowing that I was going back home to ride with my friends, it was awesome. The owner[s], Scott Powell and Dave Schaeffer, they were so awesome, they accommodated everybody. They were flatlanders, they didn’t jump, they didn’t ride quarters, but they let Nate Wessel build everything. Look at the parks that Nate’s built starting from back at Chenga, they’re all awesome. Chenga was seriously the best. They still have Chenga 2, which is really fun, but nothing beats the original Chenga.
AG: Going from ramps to a dirt park like this, what’s your background riding dirt? You’re from Parma, right? And there were some awesome trails there…
JP: I bought a house in Parma, and right behind my house there was a nature preserve. Aaron Bostrom [and I] started digging back there. It was kind of hard because I was traveling a bunch with riding and so was Aaron. Bob Delaat from Ohio kind took it over. He was just there every day making it awesome. It was literally a two minute bike ride from the backyard, to the top of the trails. I would go down there every morning before I went to work. It was the only time I could ride. No one would be down there, but it seemed like every time these kids had a whole other line, or something crazy built up taller and way more fun. Those guys really killed it on those jumps. Unfortunately, those got plowed too, but it happens.
I’ve always loved dirt, and jumping. Even when I rode Chenga, it was the box Rhythm. I built stuff at Rays, and we built the Rhythm room and the big jumps around the outside. It’s always been about jumping. The dirt has always been more comfortable for me. I’d rather try a bunch of crazy stuff and crash as opposed to slamming real hard on a cement floor and wooden ramps.
AG: The park opened December 14th and it was a pretty big effort to build it. How often do you think you’ll change it up?
JP: We’re constantly going to be working on stuff. We already have a huge list of stuff we want to change soon, and we also want to do a major redesign every summer. Our intention is to build a street plaza on the side of the dirt jumps for the winter time. On the outside, we want to build some other stuff, some spines, some quarters. We’re kicking around the idea of a mini mega ramp, just some really fun ramps out front. While we’re open, people can ride the ramps and the street plaza and we can tear down a couple of lines of the dirt and re-do it. We’re already talking about making one section into a full dirt skatepark, a big bowl, I could see that happening this coming summer.
We have a really core group of guys who have been helping out here. We call them the fab four. They kill it. They come in and dig and work and ride. What’s really good is that we all kind of have the same mentality of what we want built and how we want it built. So when I have to go do something and I say “hey, I want you to build a hip here”, I come back and it’s almost exactly the way that I would have built it. Finding these four guys was perfect.
AG: Let’s talk a bit about the town that [the park is] in. If someone wanted to make a trip down to Burlington, what kind of stuff is around here? Is there other stuff to ride? It’s not exactly a huge thriving metropolis, but there is stuff around.
JP: When we first came up here, the plan was to come up with a name for this place that was really cool, and that meant something more to the bike industry than it did to the city. I was up here for three weeks living out of a hotel and found that the city shuts down for Friday night football at the high school, everybody seems to be connected, everyone pretty much knows everyone, it’s a great town. I thought to myself after being here, everyone from this town is proud of being from this town. I’ve had nothing but good vibes from everyone in this town, [and] that’s why we stuck with Burlington Bike Park. I’m proud to be here in Burlington. It’s more than I thought it would ever be. I still can’t believe it. In terms of destinations, they really have everything in Burlington, there’s every restaurant, every type of hotel. They also have a little cement park in a city park. There’s another park down in Arlington about thirty minutes away which is a really big park
AG: It’s a pretty classic park, and I think everyone would know it when they saw it from a lot of T1 stuff [that’s been shot there].
JP: It’s definitely a really fun park. Everyone who has been coming in here has been telling me about all of these other parks. The park on Orcas Island is just a ferry ride away, Oak harbor has a couple of parks. Bellingham has a park and jumps built and maintained by the city.
AG: what do you expect the park to do for the scene around here?
JP: Well, I hope that we get a good following and it’s just a cool place to come and hang out and play on your bike. I’ve watched some of the other parks I’ve built get people back into riding and really help a scene blow up again. That’s what it’s all about, just building something that people are psyched on and having a good time. I don’t want to be the type of park that’s like “oh, you can’t ride here, you don’t have brakes”, or “you can’t do a flip”, or “you have to go this way, no transfers”. None of that, I mean, it’s riding. That’s when people have the most fun, when they’re not restricted. When they’re just chilling with their friends and trying new things. That’s the whole idea.
AG: Are you hoping to have jams and contests and things like that here?
JP: Yeah, for sure. We definitely want to start doing shop stops, stuff like that, and little jams. We’re talking about doing specific nights, maybe Wednesday night for bmx so that we get a core bmx crowd in every Wednesday. And Maybe like Friday night is old guy night, if you’re over 35 or 40 and still riding, you get a discounted price and that’s when most of the older guys come and hang out. Everyone will be allowed to come in no matter what, but we’re trying to get something going for specific crowds [in a way that] makes it kind of fun.
AG: Anything else you’d like to add before we wrap it up?
JP: Yeah, just thanks to everyone who’s helped out with it. The fab four guys who are digging with me. Andy, Spencer, Scotty and Derek. Also, Dylan Bivens helped in the beginning, he’s from down in Seattle. We’ve got our painter Shelby who’s been painting everything and doing awesome. Skagit Cycle’s coming in here to open up a location for their bike shop. Dan Jackson from Seattle, Kelly Melvin from Seattle, all of those guys have been such a big help.