From a family’s loss a bike park is born

November 07, 2016

Sarah Braker, communications manager

On October 27, 2009, Gene and Dona Griffin received the worst news imaginable. Their son Dale had been killed while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. “That brought about a period of haze and blurriness for about two years,” Gene says. Dale, one of the Griffins’ three children, was a mountain biker, hiker, SCUBA diver and mixed martial artist. “He was an incredible athlete,” Gene says, “very humble and very well-liked.”

As the family began to emerge from this dark period and heal, they thought about their son’s initial reason for enlisting. “He wanted to make a difference,” Gene says. That inspired them to do the same in his honor.

One of the last things the Griffin family did together before Dale deployed was take a mountain biking trip to Brown County, Indiana. They thought about the old horse trail in their hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana and how a mountain bike trail honoring their son would be a perfect project. He wasn’t quite sure how to make this happen, so Gene contacted Vigo County Parks and Recreation Superintendent Kara Kish about the idea.

As Gene describes it, “the first time I introduced myself, I extended my hand and before I could let go, she held on and pulled me over to the side and said, 'Mr. Griffin, we've got to talk. I already have plans to do mountain bike trails in the park system and I have family who have served in the Military'.”

It felt meant to be.

The team was introduced to Nat Lopes, Principle Designer at Hilride, a park designing and planning firm. During Lopes’ first visit to see the land for the potential trail he asked, “do you want a bike trail or a destination?” This question turned a small project into a much bigger vision.

With Lopes’ guidance and initial funding from Kish, they moved forward with a plan to build a first class bike park. First a feasibility study and then a design, both of which received board approval. Endorsement from the state came next, followed by letters of support. President George W. Bush and President Obama even lent their letter writing skills to speak up for the park. Funding from 45 partners flowed in, which allowed the team to hire Lopes to build the trails he had designed.

Griffin Bike Park celebrated its grand opening on October 15, 2016. More than 1,200 volunteers contributed upwards of 16,000 hours to make it happen. The park contains 15 miles of cross country trails, kid zone tracks and pro pump tracks, six dirt jump lines and a dual slalom race course. When completed the total mileage will be 22-25 miles with more than 150 features. “The trail system is designed for young kids just getting started to experts and pros,” Gene explains.

The park is more than just a new place to ride for the Griffin family. “Watching lines on a napkin turn into trails on national maps has been the glue that has kept us together,” Dona says. “It has been such a rewarding feeling to be out there and see families riding together instead of sitting in front of a TV.” They believe the park will contribute to their community’s happiness, health and economy. And of course, it’s a way to remember and honor their son. “When we’re out riding together it just feels like home,” Dona says, “we used to do that with Dale all the time, so it’s like he’s with us.”

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