Out of the Furnace

Anna Barensfeld takes in the view of Homestead, a town located just across the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh, as she rides High Traverse at the southern end of Frick Park’s trail system. Stacks from old mills remain as historical landmarks in the area though the factories of Henry Clay Frick’s empire are long gone.

Out of the Furnace Pittsburgh's Frick Park Blossoms into a Singletrack Destination

Steep hills are more ubiquitous than steel mills in Pittsburgh. Outsiders often overlook this hallmark feature of a city long dominated by the stereotype of factories billowing with fire, soot and smoke.

First documented in gritty detail by eminent American photojournalist W. Eugene Smith, Pittsburgh’s working class once made their way down the city’s punchy hills and intricate networks of stairs on foot to toil away at tough jobs producing coal and steel. Demand for such work has tapered and, since then, companies such as Uber and Google have moved in as tech steadily replaces physical industry. And while locals still negotiate the same hills as their forebears, a growing number now do so aboard mountain bikes. For these riders, Frick Park, covering over 644 acres of dense forest and ravines east of downtown, is the jewel of Pittsburgh’s mountain biking scene.

“It’s hard for me to imagine living in a city without a Frick,” longtime Pittsburgh rider and trailbuilder Randy Nickerson says. “The park isn’t without its occasional city park quirks and characters, be it rolling up on a trailside porno shoot or being confronted by a hatchet-wielding madman,” he says, recalling two weird situations he’s encountered at Frick Park. But more often Nickerson describes riding at Frick as a “drastic welcomed departure from the grit and pace of city life without actually leaving the city limits.”

For the earliest generation of Pittsburgh mountain bikers, Frick Park provided a blank slate upon which to create trails and test the limits of equipment. In the early 1990s, a handful of eager riders began scratching in the first rideable trails and, by the turn of the century, builders had established a network of singletrack totaling about a half-dozen miles. Early favorites were Nature Center (originally known as Stove Top) or, more recently, Bradema, depending on who you ask.

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