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Trail paves positivity in troubled community

Kaylie McNeill
The view of the Missouri river off the Mandan Park trails.

Mandan Park, located off of 13th Street in Omaha, is coming up on being one year out from completing the first phase of recreational trails that are used for mountain biking, trail running, and hiking. These trails were built in an effort to combat a high level of illicit activity taking place at the park. 

My dad, Kent McNeill, was one of the many people involved in the generation of the Mandan Park Trail System. He is the CEO of the International Mountain Biking Association. He took me out on the trails over a year ago, before they were opened to the public, and we recently decided to go ride there again.

My dad and I rode the trails at Mandan Park following a heavy thunderstorm the last weekend of April. We started out with a short section of single track, but we soon realized the trails were in no condition to ride. My dad always says if your tires are getting packed with mud, it’s too muddy to ride. You shouldn’t ride mountain bike trails when they are too wet, because it causes erosion and can create deep ruts in the mud that take a long time to buff out. 

I think that the single track trails the park has are perfect for beginners or for those looking for a relaxed ride. As I was riding, I never felt I was climbing or descending for very long, which makes the ride less challenging. I did not find there to be any super technical features, and anything technical was optional. 

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A few of the wooden ramps built by P.A.C.E. along the trails at Mandan park. (Kaylie McNeill)

One thing that stood out to me was the addition of wooden ramps. When I rode the trails before they were opened, there was not a single ramp. There are almost 20 ramps now, built by P.A.C.E., or Police Athletics for Community Engagement, to help riders build their mountain biking skills. I unfortunately did not ride on the ramps, because my tires were already wet and packed with mud, so it would have been extremely slick if I tried. The McNeills have a knack for crashing bikes, so I figured I shouldn’t take my chances.

My dad explained the thinking behind the new trail system this way: “I know [illicit behavior in the park] has been going on for 30 plus years, as it was happening when I was in college in the mid ’90s.” 

The ongoing issue in the area needed a solution that was more long term. Calling the police and reporting illicit behavior might help in case-by-case situations, but things go unreported more often than not, and that does nothing to stop future offenders.

“I know there have been some community policing efforts over the years,” my dad explained. “However, with the park infrastructure not being invested in, it grew into a hot spot for illicit activity due to lack of use by the public.” 

When my dad first told me about the trails and their purpose, I thought to myself: How do people think of things like this? The solution he was explaining made so much sense to me, and it was something right in front of my face that I never would have recognized.

When you activate a park with good people doing fun things, there isn’t much room for illicit activity to happen.

— Kent McNeill, CEO, Intl. Mountain Biking Association

My dad put it this way: “It is a simple solution really. When you activate a park with good people doing fun things, there isn’t much room for illicit activity to happen.” 

Mandan is definitely not the only park in the Omaha metro area that has struggled with unwanted behavior. Mandan was chosen because of its characteristics that made it a good home for mountain bike trails. The park sits right along the Missouri River and has forested land that is ideal for trails. It also sits in South Omaha, with proximity to Omaha South High School and youth programs such  P.A.C.E., which could benefit from  close-to-home access to trails for outdoor recreation.

“Community input prioritized Mandan Park as an underserved area lacking access to outdoor recreation, combined with youth-serving organizations wishing to provide trail-based recreational opportunities,” my dad explained. 

That all sounds great in theory, but what really matters is that the unique fix to a common problem is actually making a difference. 

“The park is seeing a marked decline in illicit activity as more and more people discover and use the trail network,” my dad said. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but with increased use, and community policing, this park is being reclaimed by and for the public.” 

The response from the mountain biking community in the metro has been  positive. Mandan Park is a 3.5-star-rated trail system that consists of 3.8 miles of 14 easy and intermediate trails. It also consists of the roughly 20 wooden ramps P.A.C.E. installed for skill building.

It’s what my dad and others like him wanted to see: “The public feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.” 

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About the Contributor
Kaylie McNeill
Kaylie McNeill, Staff Reporter
Hi guys! My name is Kaylie and this is my second year on staff. I spend a lot of my time playing travel ice hockey. I also run track, mountain bike, and snowboard on the side. I love it all! I find interest in writing about mostly anything, especially things that I feel make a difference and affect the community. I'm so excited for you all to see what I alongside my staff members can create!
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