An interview with Jessica Pearson and Joe West of TrailSpring
Interview by Jeremy Lux, article written by Eric Gasa
Jessica Pearson and Joe West of Springfield nonprofit, TrailSpring have a unique way of looking at the world. If you take a drive around southwest Missouri, you will of course notice the region’s rolling plains and hills. What looks like dirt mounds and fields to some folks is so much more to Pearson and West. These aren’t just hills, they are a full-blown adventure waiting to be experienced; a trail to be blazed, a path to be carved.
The pair envision smiling families, young BMX athletes topping jumps, bustling local economies, and hungry mountain bikers sitting down at packed restaurants. Pearson and West know the area like the back of their hands and what they see is an opportunity for fun and outdoor adventure.
As you may have guessed, TrailSpring is an organization that specializes in the cultivation of mountain biking trails and spaces. It’s a tall order, especially for an entirely volunteer-based group, but what TrailSpring strives to do will change the area forever. These rolling hills will become more than just scenery, but a place for people to gather and enjoy the outdoors.
“We don’t want to be just flyover country,” Pearson says, “We want to be a destination.”
To discuss their big plans, Jeremy Lux sits down with Pearson and West for the Life in Motion podcast, as they talk trails, organizing, and introducing new events, like an underground bike race in a limestone mine.
Pearson and West both grew up biking which remains a passion they both take seriously to this day. In college, if Pearson wasn’t busy playing volleyball at Drury she could be found on her bike crushing the trails.
“It’s a family affair I’ve had since I was a child. I now have two children of my own and we try and get out on the Greenway and bike trails as often as we can,” she shares.
West on the other hand cut his teeth doing stunts for Silver Dollar City as a teen and even tried to break out as a professional BMX biker at 19. When he hung up the hat in 2011, he transitioned into a seasoned mountain biker and began enjoying the sport for its health aspects.
With their passion for the sport burning bright, the two are right at home at TrailSpring, which was founded in 2013. Since then the organization has certainly left its mark on the community. For starters, there’s the Two Rivers Bike Park in Highlandville which boasts 13 miles of winding track, several different hiking trails, and even an 18 hole Frisbee golf course. But the group’s largest project and magnum opus is just getting started.
It’s called Dirt 66, an ambitious 72-mile bike trail that follows the Route 66 corridor in Springfield. Once completed the trail will transform the way pedestrians commute forever. So how does one get such a large project off the ground? Lots and lots of planning.
“So the whole process started about six years ago and began as a feasibility study identifying the six different kind of green zones within North Springfield…then we got into progressive trail design, then strategic planning, and focus groups to identify what type of trails would be utilized and most advantageous for the landscape,” Pearson explains.
It definitely does not sound as fun as hitting some gravel trails but all great things must start from even greater plans. But if there is one thing for sure it is that West believes that the community deserves something big like Dirt 66 and all the perks it may bring.
“People are hungry to go outside and just do something different,” he shares, “These trails will also positively impact the economy here. You’ve got all of these bike shops, races, and events that people are going to so the growth is substantial for sure.”
“People who come to bike are going to stay in Airbnbs, they’re going to shop local, and have a great impact on the recreation economy,” Pearson also adds.
As Dirt 66 gets off the ground, Pearson and West will stay busy building buzz, meeting sponsors, and setting up events to promote the new trail. One such event even pits bikers together in the cavernous depths of the Springfield underground. Yeah! That Springfield underground.
For the unfamiliar, the Springfield underground is a sprawling 3.2 million square feet industrial cave system that houses everything from Kraft cheese singles to office spaces. Its amazingly big, so big in fact that TrailSprings event can manage to fit a one-mile length course inside.
“When I first drove in there it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. You see photos of the caverns of course but to see just how large of a footprint it takes up is just wild,” says West.
Whether they’re taking the dirt paths at Two Rivers or weaving around 30-foot-tall rock pillars in a limestone mine, Pearson and West are two bikers dedicated to their craft and the joy it brings to the community.
“Regardless of what’s going on in your life, you quickly forget those frustrations on the trail,” says Pearson, “I’m just so grateful for having that environment and opportunity here in Springfield and I’m excited to see it grow.”
For Pearson, West, and the selfless volunteers at TrailSpring who maintain and build the trails, its more than just a bunch of dirt mounds and gravel. These folks are changing the community one path at a time.
To learn more about TrailSpring check out their website www.trailspring.org as well as their socials on Instagram and Facebook. As for more info on the TrailSpring story and if the Springfield underground really smells like Kraft Cheese you can always listen to Jessica Pearson and Joe West’s full interview on the Life in Motion podcast available on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play.