The Chainlink

Million Dollar Challenge Grant Could Help Make South-side Bike Park A Reality

By Brett Ratner

One of the coolest bike-related projects going on right now is the transformation of industrial land on Chicago's South Side (now currently known as Chicago Park District's "Park No. 564") to a full-featured bike park.

What is a bike park? In short, it's a place that offers trails and features that provide fun and fitness for a wide range of bicycle enthusiasts. This includes children, beginners and even pro-level competitive cyclists. The long-term plan for the Big Marsh project includes the following amenities:

  • Multi-purpose trails for biking, walking, running
  • Tot track for the youngest riders
  • Small pump track
  • Large pump track
  • Jump lines
  • Flow trail
  • Singletrack trails
  • Cyclocross course, including Belgian stairs
  • Natural area improvements

Those squiggly lines to the right represent grin-inducing pump tracks and jump lines.

The project is spearheaded by Friends of Big Marsh, which is a coalition of organizations, companies and people who support the development of Park No. 564 as an eco-recreation area that supports the physical, environmental, and economic health and well being of the Calumet region. The coalition includes:

  • City of Chicago
  • Chicago Park District
  • Illinois Department of Natural Resources
  • SRAM, Corp.
  • REI
  • International Mountain Bicycling Association
  • Chicago Area Bicycle Dealers Association
  • The Bonebell
  • The Chainlink
  • Trails for Illinois
  • Hitchcock Design Group

Some heavy hitters have gotten behind the Big Marsh project.

The project recently got a big boost when an anonymous donor offered up to $1,000,000 in the form of a 2-for-1 challenge grant. To take advantage of the opportunity, Friends of Big Marsh has launched a crowdfunding campaign. If all goes as hoped, the first phase of the park could open as early as Spring 2016.

There's a lot of work to do, but a recent challenge grant promises to bring the dream closer to reality.

If you would like to learn more, visit or check out the official press release:


Contact: Steve Buchtel, 708-365-9365 or


An anonymous donor has offered up to $1,000,000 toward building Chicago's first urban bike park in a 2-for-1 challenge grant, says Chicago-based non-profit Friends of Big Marsh. Friends of Big Marsh has launched a crowdfunding campaign at to leverage the grant that could provide much of the funding needed to open the first phase of the park in Spring 2016.

The park at Big Marsh, just east of the historic Pullman neighborhood, is being built by the Chicago Park District on 278 acres of slag field. The site is a remnant of the Big Steel era that dominated southeast side manufacturing through much of the 20th century.

Friends of Big Marsh coordinator Steve Buchtel says that the challenge grant will make donations at all levels more meaningful to the individuals and businesses interested in contributing to Big Marsh. “The two for one match means that a $10 gift towards the park is worth $30, a $10,000 gift is worth $30,000” says Buchtel. “It triples the impact donors can have on opening the park.”

When completed through multiple construction phases, the park will include a 45-acre bike park for off-road cyclists, multi-use trails suitable for walking, running and biking, a permanent cyclocross course, the region’s largest ropes course, and facilities for bird watching, archery, and events. Restoration efforts are also under way to return portions of the site to thriving marshland.

Phase 1, which includes initial ecological restoration and key elements of a 45-acre bike park, is expected to open Spring 2016 for a cost of $8.4 million. Phase 1 is being funded through a public-private partnership between the Chicago Park District and Friends of Big Marsh. Friends of Big Marsh hopes to raise $2.58 million for park construction from private corporations and donors.

Chicago-based bicycle component manufacturer SRAM Corp. has provided $500,000 to Friends of Big Marsh towards the park. Outdoor clothing and equipment retailer REI has provided an additional $100,000. The challenge grant applies only to additional funding raised, says Buchtel.

The crowdfunding campaign offers a variety of perks for donors, including pre-opening tours and events at the park, and permanent recognition opportunities. Individuals and corporations can contribute online through, or by contacting Buchtel at or 708/365-9365.

Friends of Big Marsh is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization operating on behalf of environmental, community and recreational groups to maximize the success and community benefit of Big Marsh Park No. 564.

Partnering with the Chicago Park District and other public and private entities, Friends of Big Marsh recognizes that the potential of the park extends beyond repurposing an underutilized space. The park will improve the community through:

  • Stewardship of a vibrant habitat that has long been a neglected industrial site;
  • Improving public health through active and passive recreation;
  • Creating a world-class venue for bicycle recreation that will benefit local youth, families and experienced athletes equally; and
  • Stimulating the local economy by creating a local, regional and national draw to the park.

For more information, visit or e-mail

About the Author

Brett Ratner ( began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums and gravel for The Bonebell.


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