Of the 750 kids ages 6-18 who go to the East Lake location of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chattanooga, some now see themselves as mountain bikers for the first time, thanks to the recent addition of an urban mountain bike track and launch of a Pedal Up mountain biking program through the club.
"Very few of the kids that live in East Lake have ever really been on a mountain bike, let alone have ridden on a mountain bike course," says BGCC CEO Jim Morgan.
The course, which was expected to be complete in May, features two loops — inner and outer — with on- and off-ramps, and includes a pump track and a faster track to allow kids to practice different skills, says Brad Cobb, a community volunteer and cycling enthusiast who is heading up the project with Pedal Up Executive Director Jason Finnell.
The track and bikes for the club's budding cycling program were funded through a $25,000 grant from the Schejola Foundation, which has funded Pedal Up programs at 14 other clubs across the Southeast, according to Finnell, who's been Pedal Up's executive director since he started the first program at the Boys & Girls Club in Dalton in 2008.
There are several hundred stakeholders involved with or contributing to the East Lake program — more than with any of the other programs Finnell's done, he says.
Finnell hopes to have the kids on bikes this summer. The group plans to purchase 16-20 bikes from local bike shop Scott's Bicycle Center, which the kids will have access to through structured after-school and summer programs. Led by a program leader employed by the Boys & Girls Club, participants will learn how to ride, brake and turn properly, as well as how to ride safely and maintain the bikes.
"There are so many positive life lessons and benefits that come from being on a bike," Finnell says, adding that he's seen kids increase focus and fitness, lose weight and improve anxiety issues through Pedal Up programs. "Cycling is beautiful in the sense that it takes you from wherever you are and meets you there, and then you can move forward accordingly. Whether you want to do mountain bike races or you want to do time trials on a road bike, or whether you just want to meet the kid in the neighborhood next to yours, cycling allows all those things."
In addition to riding on the track at the club, Morgan says they plan to have volunteers take program participants on organized rides on trails around Chattanooga, such as those at Enterprise South.
Cobb says he feels the program will help open up the world for the kids who participate by giving them mobility and freedom, and showing them areas they would probably never see otherwise.
"Being on a bike gave me the most unbelievable freedom," he says of his own childhood. "I think it's so important for kids to get outside."