Franke Park Trails, Well Loved

Written by Patrick Stelte - September 2019

el presidente

I grew up with ball sports. Baseball, basketball, football, golf, tennis were my main sources of play. My competitive drive was honed early in life trying to hit, throw and catch just as good as or better than my friends and anyone else on another team. I craved winning for the external validation that I greatly needed at that time. As an adult, I found that competitive drive to win or be better than others a detriment in making friends and finding acceptance. My recreational outlet of team sports was limited to the availability of others to find time in their busy schedules of life choices. In my mid-twenties, I started working with a guy named Mike that would end up being my best friend for a number of years. He was an experienced cyclist. He commuted to work on a bike and told me about his cycling adventures. I had not ridden a bike in years and marveled at his exploits with my child-like knowledge.

In the spring of 1987, my life came to a convergence. I needed to mature. I could change my life path or continue with a way of life that was familiar. I asked Mike to teach me about cycling. At that time, 80% of bikes were for the road. However, Mike was a MTB rider and like a good pupil I bought a mountain bike. To understand how alien that was in Fort Wayne, I often had to explain what a mountain bike was to friends and why I was not wasting my money on one of those coastal fads. One of the first destinations of my new sport was Franke Park. Back then, riding the trails was frowned upon. “Those” bikes were dangerous to trail-walkers and spooked the horse riders from the zoo stables. Of course, this did not stop us. We were renegades. We would ride to Franke and enter an inconspicuous portion of the trail. What a learning experience. MTB is excellent for teaching bike handling and balance by dodging tree roots, small brush and trail wash-outs near the creek and figuring out how to go around horse urine puddles the width of the path. I learned how to put my butt behind the saddle going down derby hill while chasing my instructor. I practiced doing all the trails while not putting my foot down once, a re-frame that Mike preached on pavement as well.

We did not stop at Franke. Mike took me to the Foster Park trail along the river and Robinson Park behind Lutheran Seminary. We found odd places to ride such as the stone grooves between parallel railroad tracks downtown. We ventured to Pokagon Park (outlaws again) where a deer almost wiped me out as he bounded across the path. We got lost on the Brown County trails near sunset when it was illegal to ride. We did Gnaw Bone boys and girls’ camp and six months later, Mike took me to the Hilly Hundred and I did the 100 mile weekend on my 32 pound, non-suspension Raleigh Mt. Hood. I was hooked. Cycling was my new adult sport. I did not have to wait on others for play. I could ride on my own time and set my own goals. I eventually evolved into a roadie, raced some and began group riding with 3RVS in 2007.

Today, I am very pleased with the way Franke Park trails have been developed and maintained. The devotion is evident in the recent commitment between the parks department and 3RVS. Over the last thirty years, riders have learned to love cycling by getting lost in urban wilderness and “popping out” near a neighborhood. The acceptance and evolution of MTB riding has transformed the sense of adventure for so many. The sport has advanced far beyond my recognition from where I started. I am continually amazed at the dedication and hours spent clearing and improving Franke. I had to shake my head when I saw a recent Facebook post by Luis DeVeyra with a picture of a chainsaw strapped to his bike resting against at tree on the trail.
The Franke trail system is a jewel of Fort Wayne cycling and a destination for many in our region. It will continue to be so because of the love connection of cycling, nature, adventure and the volunteers willing to sacrifice their time knowing that it makes a difference to so many.