It was at a youth baseball game nearly four years ago that Dave Baker first approached Lompoc resident Angela Brooks with an idea that he had been kicking around with some other Lompoc residents.

Baker told Brooks that he was hoping to get some people together to raise funds and help construct a public bike park that would potentially make Lompoc a coveted destination in the BMX and dirt bike communities.

“She said, ‘It’s a great idea and I’ll give you $500 to start it,’” Baker said Monday. “She was our first donor.”

Baker shared that story while standing atop a high dirt hill as riders raced and jumped past him on the first day that River Bend Bike Park — which had been a longtime dream for him and many others — was finally open to the public.

Not far from Baker, Brooks roamed around the beginner’s area at the park and dutifully snapped photos of her two daughters as they tested some of the facility’s smaller jumps, or berms.

“This is just fabulous,” she said as a small drone camera flew overhead documenting the first-day action. “I’m so excited to see this here. It’s such a great thing for our community and it’s amazing for the kids. We talk about getting out and being active and what better way to do that than this?”

Monday’s “soft opening” came a day after the city approved the park for use. That first day, Sunday, was reserved for the many volunteers who have helped shovel dirt, pick weeds and build the many features of the park since the project’s initial groundbreaking May 31, 2014.

A grand opening is planned for April 19 at the park, which is located adjacent to River Bend Park, off McLaughlin Road, an extension of A Street. During that event, scheduled to begin at noon, the facility will be dedicated to the late Al Walker, a longtime community volunteer who died in August 2012. Several items will also be raffled off, including four bikes, and many of the project’s donors will be recognized.

Riders filtered into the park throughout Monday’s soft opening — which was purposefully planned to coincide with the first day of spring break for Lompoc Unified School District schools — with sometimes 50 or more enjoying the amenities at a time.

Among those early attendees was 21-year-old Marc Julian, a BMX rider and skateboarder who has the scars on his face to prove his experience. Julian, who admits to being the “crazy guy” among his group of friends, pulled off several backflips on the advanced course.

A small group of his friends cheered his aerial stunts from a nearby picnic table, while many of the younger children looked on with awe.

Julian, who volunteered his time to help build the park, said the new facility will be beneficial for the community, particularly the young up-and-coming riders.

“There’s a few dirt jumps back in the riverbed and a little dirt trail that goes around and that was all we had to ride with until this came around,” said the Lompoc native. “You can only learn so much on small stuff, and then once you get to something like this it’s unbelievable what you can learn and how fast you can learn. That’s the cool part about this. I love this. It’s a blessing.”

Baker, who has put in more than 1,500 hours at the park site over the past year, stressed that the work isn’t over. He said that volunteers will still be needed to routinely inspect, maintain and clean the park.

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“That can be anyone from grandma and grandpa to parents to local riders and everyone in between,” he said. “We’ll take ’em. That’s how this park was built and that’s how it will continue to be run.”

The park is available for riders of all ages and skill levels and is open from dusk until dawn. Helmets are required, but the park is unsupervised and riders do so at their own risk.

“The rules are simple: Respect the park, respect others and have fun,” Baker said.

Baker said he was particularly thankful for the project’s donors and the city of Lompoc for its help in keeping the project moving. Former Mayor John Linn, who was among the early supporters, also roamed the park Monday.

“I really appreciate the support from the city,” Baker said.

As Baker shoveled and sprayed down some dirt Monday, his two youngest children — neither of whom was born when he got involved with the project four years ago — were nearby, one on her bicycle.

“It’s overwhelming with joy,” he said of his feelings while watching kids utilize the park. “This is why we built it, to have a safe place for kids to just ride bikes.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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