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Beauty and Beast: How a Dismantled Airport Bred Ingenuity and Recklessness

The former site of Woodbridge Airport hides an area where ingenious planning and reckless behavior coexist.

In hopes of capturing photos of local bikers doing aerial jumps, I went to the dirt field located behind Griffith Avenue in Woodbridge on July 13 to complete my weekly  

In the late afternoon, I found nothing more than the leftovers of clandestine parties, eerily ensconced in the branches of spindly pines or half-buried in the ground. I felt like a trespasser in a land of teenage rituals, among the stash of discarded razors, energy-drink bottles and unidentifiable debris.

The silence of a burnt desert and the colors and shapes of the landscape reminded me of Western scenery and the sandstone hoodoos of Southern Utah. Unlike natural formations, the mounds in this field have been crafted over two decades of handmade and hard-won labor by a group of anonymous teenagers.

The structures of these dirt jumps speak of a subtle engineering art: each formation is packed upon old tires, concrete pipes, or wooden crates. I’d like to imagine the boys and girls who planned the shapes, calculated the risk and the distance between each rise and fall of earthy waves, and lost hours dreaming of their own biking bravado.

In this picture I would place a younger version of Martin, a man I met while I was shooting scenery, performing stunts on his bicycle in the early 1990s. No longer willing to ride the jumps, Martin likes to watch others bike. 

As he spoke of the heyday of the field in which we stood, he told me what he would do with this land. His ideas, which included managing and extending the area, were reasonable. Potentially, if the community supported such management, the field could once more host a group of biking aficionados. Properly maintained, the field would be free of waste and illicit behavior.

The history of the area is difficult to research. Martin told me of the earlier days of the biking field, but he didn't know that we stood near the former site of a small airport.  

From the early 1960s to May 1987, the land surrounding Dillingham Square was known as Woodbridge Airport, built with a single 2,246-foot-long runway perpendicular to Old Bridge Road. 

My friend Jim Lucore, a former charter pilot, remembers well flying clients to and from the airport, before housing developments popped up at increasing speed in Lake Ridge. The airport was replaced with the usual trappings of suburbia: a strip mall, a gas station and a few banks and restaurants.

Sometime after the airport's landing strip was parceled and bulldozed –after Dillingham Square shops were built and a parking lot firmly poured into place–plans were laid for the biking field. 

No one has been able to tell me who shaped the mounds or exactly when. The genesis of that land seems imbedded in as much mystery as the nearby patch of dirt containing an alarming number of disposable razors and empty medicine bottles.

Perhaps more puzzling is the answer to these questions: Where have the bikers gone? At what point did the balance between ingenuity and recklessness tip towards a teenage wasteland?

On my way home, I had a single thought. The field was a representation of beauty and beast and the divide between Jekyll and Hyde. Yet as I later edited the photographs, it was beauty that moved me: not the prettiness of the wildflowers, but the masterful landscaping of unknown bikers. 

Perhaps someone will read this article and tell me that the dirt field is no mystery at all, that the land was planned by middle-aged, paunchy councilmen eager to create a space in which to contain the angst of adolescence. If such is the case, so be it. In the meantime, I will continue to think of the field as a monument to the passions—good and bad—of youth.

Stephanie Dupal-Demartin July 21, 2011 at 10:54 PM
Thanks everyone for your comments! It is truly a pleasure to engage in a virtual conversation with readers...
Robbie August 16, 2011 at 06:26 PM
Part 1 I can take credit for breaking ground on what soon became one of the most popular BMX hotspots on the east coast. It all began with a few young bike riders looking for a place to build BMX dirt jumps, ride till dark and hang out with our friends. We all shared the same passion and anyone who showed up to ride their bikes were automatically, “one of us.” The first shovel hit the dirt in 1992. We found this great piece of land and parked on it was a construction trailer full of equipment. It was already broken into and ransacked, but the thieves left behind the most valuable tools, shovels. The site now had a name, “The Jumps.” We found a septic tank on site and immediately used it as the base for our first jump. The next day, we added another jump, and so on. The dirt was clean, no rocks, plenty of clay and perfect for building bike jumps. The building continued until 1997 when bulldozers destroyed everything. We were devastated. The peak time of the “The Jumps” came in 1997. International magazines were coming to shoot photos of the local riders and visiting pros. BMXers from all over the country were stopping by while traveling up and down I95. BMX magazine, “SNAP” ran a 10 page article focusing on the vacant land that has been transformed to a famous training ground for BMXers from all over.
Robbie August 16, 2011 at 06:27 PM
Part 2 I myself used the vacant land to train for BMX racing events which I competed in all over the world. From my days at “The Jumps,” I achieved national and world titles. In 2002, I won the Downhill BMX X-Games event in Woodward, PA. Some of the core guys who rode “The Jumps” also went on to win national titles and work in the BMX industry. Not only was the land great for training, it was a place to “get away” and stay out of trouble. As the oldest rider, I always tried to direct the kids in a positive direction. There were never any drugs, smoking or violence. We all shared the same interest and that was riding our bikes. Families came out with their young children and set up beach chairs to enjoy the sun. On preset weekends, we would promote “Jams” where riders would come from as far as Long Island to ride and BBQ with us. “The Jumps” were more than a vacant land to us, it was our home.
Robbie August 16, 2011 at 06:27 PM
Part 3 In the summer of 1998, I left Woodbridge to travel the country racing BMX. During the summer, bulldozers came and flattened 6 years worth of hard work and good times in a matter of minutes. This was a huge blow to our community of riders. Morale was low and the thought of rebuilding was discouraging. It takes a full day of digging to make just one jump. Once the jump is finished, it needs to be packed and ridden. Rain was our enemy. Every time it poured down rain, we would have to scrap mud out of the pits of the jumps and rebuild from the erosion. The best memories came from the camaraderie building the jumps, not riding them. We all became close friends with a common bond that still exist today. We had momentum and our parents were behind us. After noticing a lack of BMX tracks in Northern Virginia, our parents got together with the county and ultimately opened the BMX track at Cannons Stadium. “NOVA BMX” was born. The track was very successful and held national events where riders would come from all over the world. Thousands of riders and their families packed our restaurants, stayed in our hotels and spent money in Lake Ridge. Did our little BMX training grounds on vacant no man’s land ultimately create an economic stimulus for the city? Maybe. The track is still there and the rider base is strong.
Robbie August 16, 2011 at 06:27 PM
Part 4 After the bulldozers flattened the land we moved our efforts into the adjacent wooded area behind Village Skis and Bikes. From our travels riding BMX jumping spots in the northeast, we learned building secrets and took advantage of dirt under the canopy of trees. With the help of better soil and an occasional water supply from the bike shop, we were once again in business. The jumps were bigger, scarier and definitely not for everybody. Our skills have outgrown the average Lakeridge BMXer and our core group of riders was down to about 10. During this time, we slowly were starting to leave the jumps behind one by one. Some of us left for college, another went into the military, some quit and I left for California to peruse my BMX dream. Once we were all gone the jumps slowly began to reseed back into the earth. Kids would come and go but nobody would commit to taking full control of “The Jumps” and commit to the upkeep and maintenance the obstacles require. For the following years from 1998 to now, 13 years later, groups of riders have come and gone. Some know of the colorful past the vacant land has seen, others have no idea what history is in that dirt.
Robbie August 16, 2011 at 06:28 PM
Part 5 I went on to a successful BMX career and now a Deputy Sheriff in Orange County, CA. The other guys have all been successful in life after BMX. They went on to become firefighters, marketing agents, mechanics, and computer wizards. It saddens us to say the vacant land once called “The Jumps” is now a breeding ground for bums and drugs. Although “The Jumps” were lawless in a sense, there were rules we followed and all everybody left a better person. To this day, I still say my experience at “The Jumps” made me who I am today.
Lauren Jost August 16, 2011 at 06:46 PM
Thanks for your comments, Robbie!
Maryland Nick August 17, 2011 at 04:29 PM
I would agree with Robbie. I'm from Pasadena, MD (a suburb of Baltimore) and started riding in 1993. We had our own jumps, trails and mini racetracks in the many wooded areas that my hometown provided. After years of riding, and finally getting a license, some friends and I took a drive to this field we had heard about. Now remember a time before mapquest, and the internet. Someone knew about some jumps, and a rough idea of where in Virginia they were and with a Rand McNally in hand we drove down. The locals were awesome and inviting and it's what cemented my love for traveling and meeting new people, something I still do as much as possible. I got busy in the scene in Baltimore, building our own trails and traveling to skateparks and such. Not until a random Sunday afternoon did I meet many of the guys that Robbie affectionately talks about. We all became close friends and rode the Vans skatepark religiously together as well as the occasional road trip. Though many of us are now successful in facets of our lives, I'm willing to bet we'd take any chance we could to ride those trails or that park together one more time. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane.
Adam Watkins August 17, 2011 at 05:09 PM
Robbie definetly gets the credit for creating and maintaining the BMX community in lakeridge. He started the jumps and trained us younger kids how to keep the jumps running.  I remember digging in the snow and down pour rains just laughing with the boys as we built our new lines and filled up the field with more mounds of dirt.  While other kids my age were concerned with the next party all we cared a about was building and then riding our new creations.   The jumps were a catalyst to create some of the best friends I have to this day.  It has also created a path and career for me today.  I still keep on touch with the 10 Robbie mentions and the hundreds he has not.  Many people came through the jumps some to party but most to ride BMX.  I could write on for days about the memories maybe a follow up piece should be done with interviews? We have old photos and even a few recent from my last visit in town.  The jumps were my second home my passion and my life for the better pArt of 10 years. I miss them, being able to hang with my best friends on a daily basis, and guessing who may come through on any given weekend.  
Devin August 17, 2011 at 06:19 PM
I remember growing up a few block from the jumps. Robbie got me to do my first jump when I was 9 back in 94. He was such a role model. All of the core group, and then some, we so great and supportive to the younger kids. They'd help give us tips, help when we crash, show us how to build, etc. The biggest crime ever committed was chickening out on a jump, or letting your bike fly off the jump alone and mess up the landing. Awful crimes! The kids there now don't have the "family" support given to me and my generation by Robbie and company, but I'd still imagine they aren't hoodlums. There are a lot of people that walk through the area, it's an easy pathway to get though since there is no sidewalk along Old Bridge at that point. Or at least there wasn't. It's also an easy place to hide from parents and police. There are a lot of people doing drugs and other illegal activities up there, but not necessarily the bikers. I remember after the core group was leaving, after the jumps got bulldozed and rebuilt time and time again, we'd have trash cans, or at least trash bags, up there to help with clean up. Every now and then, we'd go up there and not allow anyone to ride until things were picked up. We didn't want to give people more excuses to shut us down (again). I believe being there was trespassing, but it kept us off the streets, gave us more to do than drugs. Trespassing, though illegal, seems better than getting addicted to a life of hard crime and drugs.
Lauren Jost August 17, 2011 at 06:45 PM
Awesome stories, everyone. Thanks for your comments.
Paul Conti August 17, 2011 at 07:16 PM
Robbie said it best when he said “The Jumps” were more than a vacant land to us, it was our home." He is the one responsible for the way of life that we all were a part of in those early days! The memories I have from that place are some of the best in my life. Most of us still ride bikes and are very involved in the cycling world. BMX is one of the best things to happen to me in my life and the freinds I have made because of it are like none in the world. Yes, we are a special breed. For those of us lucky enough to have experienced "The Jumps" the way they were and what they represensted to us have made us who were are to this day. Its funny how many people can pass through there and just see it as a dirt lot but to those who truley know what that dirt means it is a place we can never forget!
jeff gentry August 17, 2011 at 09:40 PM
I grew up riding these trails and they are like a second home to me. I've been riding. Bmx there for going on 12 years. We try to keep it clean and be positive role models for the young groups that ride there, from the way i see it if there having fun riding some. Bmx jumps and hanging out with friends, then there not on the street gettin in trouble. May "the jumps" live on!
mike August 17, 2011 at 09:49 PM
Mike s. I ride the jumps still to this day. There has been many attempts to clean the area but none the less, people trash it. There has been many people that walk or passerby this field of our creations, but few that understand the love that we,as riders share. We are sort of an unknown army of soldiers, that build and ride these jumps to feed our habit. It is a place to build jumps and friendships at the same time. A place where it doesn't matter where your from, who you are, or even how you ride. "The jumps" has been a self proving ground among riders and builders alike, for numerous years. If you've spent a day digging you know you've made a greater group of friends, just by helping, than you could find anywhere else. It is a wasteland for bums and a place to escape for riders. As I said before,we an unknown army of people. Who have done everything from cleaning and enjoying the slow lazy days, to building, bonding, holding jams, and even jumping over the occasional pickup truck (I'm guilty of this). It needs to be cleaned up again. Hopefully someday it can be a known place to ride and people will stop trashing it. Some of us grew up there and disgrace to see it littered, after you've spent time building and cleaning.
mike August 18, 2011 at 01:13 AM
robbie. i actually met you at camp woodward after your bmx race on the track they built for x games. quite a few years ago. i also have a picture of you and my best friend john sealock, sitting on eachothers bikes after your race. being from dumfries/woodbridge area, i grew up riding these jumps with john. i can say i have cleaned the jumps numerous times with the help of a few good people. remember danny? he still rides. i think im actually gonna go up there and ride tomorrow . clean first, then ride. im sure we will take a full truckload out of there , but people need to take out what is brought in. learn to tread lightly people or our earth wont last as long, nor will the places we ride. all in all this is more of a thank you to you robbie for breaking new ground.also to let you know that some of us still love "the jumps" and clean up every time we are there. we are an unknown army.
mike August 18, 2011 at 01:19 AM
there is adults that still come ride "the jumps". it would be a good family place if people wouldnt trash it the way they do. there should be a follow up on this article. interveiws? make it a legal place, ride at your own risk.
Lance O'Byrne August 18, 2011 at 04:46 AM
Part 1 I dont think the author of this article knew what she was tapping into when she penned this article. Robbie was definitely the catalyst of a group of boys (now grown men) that have become life long friends. However, I consider this select few more family than friends. My brothers... The original members of the Capital Crew, of which unbeknownst to Robbie; was the Godfather. I was in middle school when I met Paul Conti, Robbie, and a few others that have yet to post. It was 1992 when I first discovered my future brothers, and a life long obsession that continues to this day. Growing up, if we weren't at school, we were together. Our parents had no issues in locating us, as they knew we would be at "The Jumps". If you wanted to find one of us, you would most likely find the whole crew. If not at the jumps, then at the Dairy Queen drinking "Mister Misty's". Or at the Giant scooping up $.25 sodas. Everything revolved around "The Jumps". It was our canvas. But rather than using a paintbrush to create, we used shovels and rakes. Brooms and wheelbarrows. It was definitely a home away from home. When it was dry, we were riding till the sun went down. When it was wet, we were creating the new line, fixing or improving old ones. (Except when one of us had to walk his cat). These years I will definitely remember as some of the best times in my life.
Lauren Jost August 18, 2011 at 10:46 AM
Hey everyone, Thanks so much for your comments. We'll definitely plan to do a follow-up. I will post details of that when we get it figured out. Thanks! Lauren
Trey Hinton August 18, 2011 at 11:55 AM
WOW! i wish we could all get up and ride there again! "The Jumps" made all of us who we are today and we owe it all to our friendships over these many years! and its nuts how many of us still talk and hang out to this day! i miss you guys and hope to see you all soon and it would be soo sick if we could all meet up and go ride there again one day! Eric Blackwater a few posts up said he learned to fly there when it was an airport... well we learned to fly there too!! MIss those days!!
mike August 18, 2011 at 01:20 PM
Holy cow Trey commented?! I haven't seen you since vans dude.
Dan Telvock August 18, 2011 at 02:47 PM
Wow, Robbie. Great info. This sounds really unfortunate that someone destroyed the jumps...That's a risk when anyone does something like this on private property, though. None of it may be there the next morning and there isn't anything that could have been done to stop it.
Dan Telvock August 18, 2011 at 03:03 PM
Hi Trey, have you been able to pay all of your medical bills yet? I had read about your accident and I just want to say that I hope your recovery is improving and life is good for you. Thanks for commenting.
Robbie August 18, 2011 at 06:00 PM
Good memories everybody. Start scanning old photos for a future article on the Patch. And yes, we all should make it back to VA one day and do some riding. Please send me your old pics via facebook. Find me on there.
Rick Thomas August 19, 2011 at 02:12 AM
Brings back a lot of good memories. I do not think I made it down to the 10 individuals mentioned, but I may have been one of the 15 or 20. Kind of weird thinking back on how that place has shaped me as a person, and the bond that we all had, that has diminished through the years. I smell a reunion. Rick Thomas, AKA, the DonutKing, (the donuts have definitely caught up over the years)
Trey Hinton August 20, 2011 at 07:38 AM
Hey dan whats up!!! no i havent paid them! i have my next surgery here soon... they are taking a bone out of my hip and putting it where my pallet is and then about 6 months later they will put in 6 implants... then about 6 months after that they will cap them... i will be fine but its really nice to know that people are willing to help me! every little bit will help.. we have have 5 month old son and its just tought with a possible $500 a month bill for 4 or 5 years! its gonna be wild! but ill make it! hope all is well! i miss ithaca! i pray for Tag everyday! i hope he is doing well! later man! (also what mike is that?)
Zachary Quinn September 18, 2011 at 10:22 PM
For everyone who doesn't know the Jumps got plowed last week and the construction of a day care center has begun... RIP
Chocolate December 18, 2011 at 12:00 AM
Read all the comments on here. Great article, and sounds like some great people that helped shape this place. Its a shame they destroyed them again. When this place was being shaped in the early 90s by Robbie and everyone else, I was just being born (1992). I got into skateboarding/bmx/inline in the late 90s. The best thing about this article is I can relate to it so well because I had the very same thing in my neighborhood in Dale City. If you go to the closest water tower near Saunders Middle School, you will see a small strip of several jumps that me and my buddies put together in elementary school.They are baby jumps compared to what was at Village, only dirt mounds now, and we had a lot of less space to work with. But, it was the same type of bond. Our jumps evolved overtime and we made the best of what we had. There were about 6 of us, and these guys are basically family. Only people I chill with are the ones I met in this said neighborhood building these jumps together. 3 of us are working jobs, another is serving in the USMC infantry division, and we had another friend pass away in an drunk driving crash as a passenger. Crazy how time flies. We went to the village jumps here and now, honestly they were so big we couldn't even jump most of them, just the mid-sized ones. I remember at the time, even though I was 11 or 12 years old, seeing the whole lay out of those jumps... i just thought it was such a unique place that i just wasn't used to seeing.
Chocolate December 18, 2011 at 12:17 AM
Not trying to compare it to what was done at the Village jumps, it was on a bigger scale. We didn't have snap magazine come and do shoots. But when we all got off the bus from grade school, we dropped our backpacks off at our individual houses, ride our bmx bikes up the street and meet up at the water tower jumps for a session, or to improve the jumps. Just as you all would do. Miss those times to man. I'm always feeling nostalgic about my past, and a lot of it had to do with action sports and the people I enjoyed riding/skating with. I feel like in the 90s and early 2000s, action sports was so raw. Anything went. Building dirt jumps in a vacant dirt field, or in an area behind a water tower, its an escape man. Love it. I miss Vans a lot, if you were a local there you already know. It sucks to see a piece of history like the jumps behind Village be demolished. With both these spots gone though, it is disappointing. However, when this article came out mid-summer, and comments were made about needing a skatepark, officials were just about ready to break ground on the renovation of the skatepark at Veterans Park. Now about 5 months later we are nearing the completion of a new spot at Vets. Its still in progress, but they have a good portion of the street course poured, a huge kidney bowl, along with the vert ramp that was already there. Check out the progress in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTrNdWFwafY
Chocolate December 18, 2011 at 12:22 AM
I haven't skated nearly as much as I did when Vans closed. A lot of it is because there wasn't a park near me to skate. But I'm glad it is getting done and although im late to see this, I just wanted to share that video and my thoughts Here is to the ones we lost
seemore butts August 17, 2012 at 06:09 AM
I also rode these jumps in 94-96. I knew them as Weiss Jumps. bought my first bmx, a chrome GT, in the bike shop on the corner of the strip mall. Everyone who rode was cool. Gave me something to do besides drugs, smoking, gangs, ect. The (Common Weath) should give the youth a chance at something like this park.

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