The muggy, humid heat was not enough to stop more than 20 kids from gathering at Anniston’s Mike Tucker Park on Thursday as city officials announced a new youth biking initiative.
Steven Folks, the director of Anniston’s Parks and Recreation Department, said he and Tom Nelson, the president of the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association, applied for and received a grant to start a youth biking initiative in Anniston.
The $15,000 grant, provided by the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, helped supply 12 bicycles and 30 helmets for kids to use as they learn how to mountain bike. NEABA donated 20 additional bikes to the initiative. On Thursday, Folks spoke to kids from different Anniston summer camps to tell them about the free program.
“This is your opportunity to get on a bicycle and ride and see some things,” Folks said to them.
Folks began by describing the opportunity and reassuring the kids that the bicycle club would not interfere with other sports. He also asked them what other activities they would like to be part of with this group. Some kids mentioned incorporating other sports, while others mentioned camping. Nelson took the moment as an opportunity to get the kids excited about trails like Coldwater Mountain.
“You ride those trails, it’s like a rollercoaster through the forest,” Nelson said.
Nelson said the hope of the program is to get local kids more involved in cycling. He said there’s been a push within the last five years for National Interscholastic Cycling Association racing teams to form in the area. One of the goals, he said, is to potentially form high school teams in Anniston schools.
For now, the Cheaha Mountain Bike Composite, the Donoho School and Jacksonville High School are the only Alabama Interscholastic Cycling League teams in the county.
He said the program does not have an official name yet. As an extra motivation to join the youth club, Nelson said, two kids will get new bikes at the end.
Patrick Wigley, the owner of the bike shop Wig’s Wheels, went over bicycle safety with the kids. After the safety lesson, Wigley and Darin Sims took the kids outside to try out the new bicycles.
With the help of Wigley and Sims, the kids tried the new bicycles by the Mike Tucker Park trailhead, at the southern end of the Chief Ladiga Trail.
Sims recently qualified for the 2017 Union Cycliste Internationale National Gran Fondo Championship after riding in the Cheaha Challenge. He said biking was fundamental in his childhood and this program will help give an opportunity to ride to kids who may not have access to the equipment they need.
“I hope we can get a competitive mountain biking team out of this group,” Sims said.
Folks said he’s working with NEABA, Big Brother Big Sister and the Boys and Girls Clubs as they begin this initiative. He said they are still figuring out rules for the club, but that any kid who wants to join the biking initiative is welcome. He said middle schoolers were originally targeted, but they expanded to fifth graders.
Folks also mentioned wanting to involve at-risk kids in the area, giving them an alternative to trouble.
“It feels good just to give kids opportunities and alternatives,” Folks said.