Gunn Park Trails: Interview with Frank Halsey

A lot of people think I’m just plain nuts, but what they fail to realize is the sanity I gain from the simply being out in the woods and creating something.

In Gunn Park in Fort Scott, down by the river, you can find a well-maintained mountain bike trails. I was lucky enough to get a chance to meet with the trail designers while I was mapping out the trail for the upcoming book. Frank Halsey worked hard to develop these trails, starting without permission, but carrying on. He opens up here about what it was like to create, from nothing, an entire set of trails.

Kansas Trail Guide: What inspired you to create the trails?

Halsey: My brother-in-law sent me an email video of some downhill riders flying through the woods and it looked like fun.

Kansas Trail Guide: How long did they take to build?
Halsey: It took me a couple of months to build the first mile or so, and we’ve been working on the other three to four miles for a couple of years. Maintenance takes up a lot of time that we could be building more trails.

Kansas Trail Guide: When did the process begin – the planning stages?

On the trails at Gunn Park

On the trails at Gunn Park

Halsey: I actually started building in the fall of 2009 without much planning or even permission.  The city made me stop for all of 2010 while they did their due diligence.

During this time I worked on maintaining the original mile loop, and scoped out other areas of timber in the park.  In the spring of 2011 the city granted permission to proceed, and a few great volunteers got involved.

We built about 2 ½ miles during the spring and summer of 2011, and then another mile or so in the spring of 2012.  Because of ongoing maintenance, there really hasn’t been much opportunity to build the additional two miles that we have planned.

Kansas Trail Guide: Do you have a favorite part of the trail?

Halsey: I actually have a couple favorite sections of trail.  The “North Ridge Ride” was our first attempt at building on the side of a hill.  It’s downhill and only slightly tricky, but fun.  The “River Ride” is cool because it runs right next to the river and has some fun rolling runs, and finally the “West River Ridge” because we initially didn’t think it could be done.

Kansas Trail Guide: What are some factors about trail building and maintenance that people should realize?

Halsey: I love it, but it’s a big commitment!  Much more than I ever imagined.  My wife (she’s an angel) is really the only person that truly understands how much time I spend on the trails.  Gunn Park is practically in my back yard, so for me it’s close by, relaxing, therapeutic, most of the time spontaneous, so I tend to lose track of how long I’m down there.  Probably like gardening for somebody that likes gardening. I spend a lot of time, by myself, maintaining and improving what we have.  Kind of like weeding a big garden.

We had a tremendous group of volunteers help build the trails initially.  Sadly, volunteers wear out after a while, and they don’t share the same passion.  We try to have regular work sessions but only a couple of us show up.  I get that, many of them still have kids activities, and other hobbies, I don’t.  This has become my hobby.  My golf game is suffering, but that’s OK, this is better for me.

A lot of people think I’m just plain nuts, but what they fail to realize is the sanity I gain from the simply being out in the woods and creating something.  I get a lot more credit than I deserve, because really I’m selfishly doing this for me.  That others can take advantage is just a bonus.  However, whenever I see anybody else on the trails, riding, jogging or hiking, it gives me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.

Probably what I would caution others about is the “volunteers wear out” part.  The city does not have the resources to maintain what we’ve built and likely never will.  I have a couple of guys I can expect to show up 50% of the time.  Other than that, people have other commitments.  So, if planning to build trails, be careful what you ask for, you might get it.  Also, if building next to a river that floods occasionally, be prepared for lots of cleanup time.

Interview with Roger of Tailwind Cyclists in Pittsburg

The rolling hills of southeastern Kansas around Pittsburg are perfect for mountain bike trails. I checked in by email with Roger Lomshek, owner of Tailwind Cyclists, which has you covered for all your cycling & outdoor needs, for his recommendations and thoughts on the Pittsburg area trails.

Kansas Trail Guide: What are the best trails in the Pittsburg area for mountain bikers and why?

Roger: We have three trails that offer a mix of flavors for riders.

The 23rd Street Bike Park is in the middle of town 6 blocks east of Broadway on 23rd ST! The bike park has a mix of roller coaster twisty singletrack with lots of short steep 10 foot tall hills. It also has a dirt jumping track with plans to add a trials riding area and pump track. While some areas are beyond the beginner rider there is almost always an easy detour and you’re never more than a half mile from the road.

One of the features at the 23rd Street Bike Park in Pittsburg

One of the features at the 23rd Street Bike Park in Pittsburg

Wilderness Park is at the far north edge of Pittsburg 1/2 mile west of Hwy 69 on McKay ST. The front half has gravel bike & walking paths that are great for beginner riders and families while the back half is a tangle of singletrack trails in heavily wooded hills.

Farlington Lake (Crawford State Park) is 10 miles north of Girard, KS on Hwy 7 (25 miles northwest from Pittsburg). A paved 6 mile road circles the lake while a nearly 8 mile singletrack trail rolls through the woodland around the lake. The singletrack trail has some very difficult sections and overall I would list it as an intermediate trail that is not for beginners.

Kansas Trail Guide: How many volunteer hours does it take to maintain the trails and how many trails does your shop take care of?

Roger: Tailwind Cyclists and our crew of volunteer trail workers maintains all 3 trail networks in our area totaling about 15 miles of trails. We usually devote at least a weekend every other month to trail maintenance and sometimes smaller half day sessions as needed.

Kansas Trail Guide: Are there areas for beginners and experts?

Roger: All three trails offer challenges for expert riders while the 23rd Street Bike Park and Wilderness Park have some beginner friendly portions.

Kansas Trail Guide: Are there any organized trail rides?

Roger: Tailwind Cyclists hosts a Thursday night mountain bike ride that leaves the shop at 6:30 PM during daylight savings time. We also do occasional road trips to further away trails on weekends. Call the shop at 620-231-2212 for details.

Kansas Trail Guide: What gear can people purchase at your shop?

Roger: We sell a wide variety of cycling accessories plus the bikes themselves and can get camping and outdoor gear as well.

Kansas Trail Guide: What do you think makes the Pittsburg area special for mountain bikers?

Roger: The people who ride! We have a great group of riders that make every trail ride fun.

Dining out at Crooner’s in Fort Scott

Much of southeastern Kansas is made up of gently rolling plains and forests, which makes it a great place for exploring by trail, and around Fort Scott and Pittsburg, there are multiple mountain biking trails to choose from. After checking out the trails that wind through Gunn Park (interview with the trail designer to come soon!), I was hungry. And since I was staying in Fort Scott on a Friday, I was in luck – I could eat at Crooner’s Lounge.

Duck with raspberry sauce and a twice baked potato

Duck with raspberry sauce and a twice baked potato at Crooner’s Lounge

Open Wednesday to Friday from 5 to 9pm in downtown Fort Scott, Crooner’s Lounge serves up gourmet food in a stylish dining room with brick walls adorned with images of singers and dark tablecloths and comfy chairs. The menu can and will change daily. The chef decides what’s inspired him that day, and that’s what he cooks.

I’m so glad he was inspired by pork belly – I had it for my appetizer, and it was a mix of crisp and tender and I-want-to-lick-my-plate-clean delicious. That could have been enough, but I also had the duck topped with raspberry sauce (I’ve never before seen or tried that combination, and I can now definitively recommend it!) with a twice-baked potato and mixed vegetables. From start to finish, it was delightfully yummy.

Reservations aren’t required, but they’re recommended, particularly on Friday nights. Since it’s only open 3 nights a week, you want to make sure you can get a table. The restaurant is a part of the Liberty Theatre building, with the entrance through the theatre doors.

If you go:

Entrees range from about $12 to $30, and there’s happy hour with $5 drinks from 5 to 6pm.

113 and 117 South Main Street, Fort Scott, KS 66701

620-215-1788

*Meal was compliments of Crooner’s Lounge. All opinions are that of the author.*