Red Barn Youth Center teamed up with Key Pen Parks to take nine students from Key Peninsula Middle School for a guided mountain bike ride Oct. 27 at 360 Trails.
It was a ride they won’t soon forget.
One teenaged girl said, “I want to do this every day, every single day for the rest of my life.”
Kellie Bennett, executive director of Red Barn Youth Center, said the schedule meshing to get everything coordinated for the ride was complex for a drop-in youth center. But that didn’t stop her from trying. She said they managed to pull it off once before in 2019, with only four students and a van for transportation provided by WayPoint Church, but the pandemic delivered a real blow to future planning. “We never really know on a day-to-day basis who will show up,” she said.
When Peninsula School District reopened for in-person classes this fall, Bennett reconnected with Key Pen Parks Commissioner Mark Michel to find a window of opportunity that might work.
“Every October, KPMS parent teacher conferences mean that middle school students get out before noon,” Bennett said. “Red Barn Youth Center again offered to open early that week, from 11:30 a.m. until 6 p.m.” That timeline gave students a chance to get out on the trails and back to the youth center in time for parent pick up, which varies daily between 3 and 6 p.m.
There are many hurdles, like getting kids to commit to coming with signed parental permission slips, arranging for appropriate transportation, plus making sure there are enough mountain bikes that fit the student riders.
Once at Gateway Park, the group gathered for proper bike fitting with the technical guidance of volunteer Eric Holsinger. After going over the basic safety rules, trail guides watched the students ride a bit to get a feel for their experience level. Students were then split into two groups.
“Volunteers John Reich and Gary Robertson took the more experienced riders, students who had been on their bikes outside their cul-de-sacs,” Bennett said. “Mark and I took students who had perhaps only sat on their cousin’s bike at their house or said, ‘I think I was on a bike once three years ago.’ Our focus was to give them an understanding of their bikes and why you have the gears that you do.”
Bennett said in the beginning they didn’t understand the gears, so they did a bit of walking at first.
“But then we hit the pump track at 360 Trails where the idea is to go and get your speed up and then you don’t pedal the entire rest of the time. It’s just learning how to move your body backwards and forwards,” she said. “It was a lot of fun and we hung out there for a while getting used to it. Some of the kids started out a little unsure, but before long we heard lots of happy squealing.”
It was a day of pouring rain that Bennett said miraculously cleared long enough for the group ride. “They went home muddy, which I actually think is the point of mountain biking sometimes,” she said.
After the ride, Robertson led students in sharing their favorite part of the ride and something they learned during their experience. Robertson is passionate about seeing students get outside more often.
“We live in this beautiful area with extraordinary recreational opportunities in our parks,” Key Pen Parks Executive Director Tracey Perkosky said. “But how can we help more kids experience all that our community offers?”
Bennett said the numbers at Red Barn are about half of what they had pre-pandemic. “We’re all rebuilding and I think with Tracey’s help and Mark and Gary’s excitement, we can get some traction.”
“I think developing a model where we do an hour of trail maintenance before we ride is important,” she said. “I really feel strongly that the kids understand that this is fun for us to do, but there are people who are doing the work to make it happen.”
Another group for local youth is the KP Pirates Mountain Biking Team whose interest goes beyond the student league and mountain bike racing. Their focus includes outreach and the daily riding, trying to get kids involved.
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