If Gary builds it, they will come.
Hood River’s Gary Paasch is a self-starter of an unconventional sort. At age 15, he and his friend and mentor Jake Felt began building mountain-bike jumps in Felt’s backyard to install on nearby county forestland. Years later, Paasch’s hobby and passion has positioned him as one of the most innovative and productive trail builders in Oregon.
“The only reason I’ve ever built is that otherwise I wouldn’t have anything to ride,” he says. “I learned at a young age that if you don’t build it, it won’t be there.”
Although he says he builds trails for selfish reasons, this might be the most openhanded kind of selfishness ever. Because while Paasch does get to ride his jumps as much as he wants, the resources and thousands of unpaid hours he puts into building are also enjoyed by countless other eager riders.
Paasch and the Hood River Area Trail Stewards, the local chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association, have built up Hood River’s Post Canyon riding area into a dynamic and accessible place to shred. Since Post Canyon is on private, county and state land rather than national forest land, builders can take a few more liberties with the jumps they build — and take liberties they have.
“Jake and I were some of the first people to build freestyle-motocross-style jumps for mountain bikes — these big, six-foot-tall wooden jumps that look like FMX kickers. Now you look at any professional competition and they look like what Jake pioneered. We built one at his house and put it out in the woods,” Paasch says.
Building on county land comes with both perks and drawbacks. Anything Paasch installs becomes county property. That means he’s not liable for any riders who choose to use the trails — anyone can jump and ride whatever they want — but it also means his work is unprotected. “We put in a ridiculous amount of hours, and it can all get destroyed,” he says. That goes for resources, too. Irresponsible off-season riding and vandalism have damaged features in the past, but Paasch says for the most part people are respectful because they recognize the hard work that goes into the build.
Paasch’s drive to bring the biggest, baddest jumps to Hood River has led to some very cool shared community resources, motivated by the simple, intrinsic joy of the build. He sums up his work the best: “It’s pretty fun to go out in the woods and build jumps.”