A Volunteer's Experience

(The following essay was written by volunteer Pam Williams to give new volunteers an idea of what to expect.)

We (volunteers) arrive before the bus is scheduled to arrive. Times vary somewhat depending on when the bus is scheduled to come. (Unfortunately, the buses are sometimes late.) Usually you will get notification from Scott about what time to show up for any particular ride. While we are waiting for the kids, we get the bikes out and put them into six lines because we (almost) always have six riding groups. As we line the bikes up, this is an opportunity to do a quick check for major things, like is the tire flat?. etc.

Bike Lineup
We try to guesstimate the size of the kids, and line up bikes accordingly. What we call the “black bikes” are our staple, the ones we mainly use. They fit a good majority of our riders. We also have smaller and larger bikes that we use as needed. We put a banana on the seat of each bike. Also while we are waiting, we meet the volunteers, get the snacks for the ride, get any last minute up dates re: trail conditions, weather, special kids and their needs, etc. We get the Comm center number, etc.

Kathy (usually it is her) then assigns us our trail group and our position in it. Experienced people are designated as leaders; newer volunteers or those who prefer, are assigned a middle or end place. These volunteers exchange phone numbers. The leader has a first aid kit and water. Any kids meds (inhalers, etc) are handled by the teachers or their designated assistants.

Teachers and parent helpers are “assigned” to the trails groups at this time, too, and we share this info with them once they arrive. Once in awhile, we have lots of rain, trail closures, etc, so this is a time we brainstorm and plan how we are going to handle that. As we are getting our trail group assignments, Kathy assigns us to either go South or North for our first ride of the day, and then we go the opposite direction after lunch.

Line Up
As the kids arrive, we funnel them right off the bus to line up for an introduction and safety briefing. I think this year for the first time, we are going to have a brief CVNP intro by a Ranger as well as our Cycling Schools Intro. We cover all the stuff that was on their Safety Pledge they reviewed previously in the classroom.

The school usually brings bins for the kids lunches and if the lunches aren’t already in those bins they get placed in there now. Also, kids are not allowed water on the ride because we have found it creates way too many distractions so they put their water in the bins also.

Kids are divided up into their groups and gather around with their volunteers to go get their helmets. We fit them as best we can and then the kids are directed which line to go to, told to select a bike that fits them and eat their banana. Some of them also need encouragement to eat their banana.

Bike Fit
This is a very busy time for us as we are trying to get the helmets on and fit as well as making sure the bikes are at least a decent fit. We sometimes need to redirect them to a different size bike. We often raise or lower the seat. Most kids are pretty flexible but occasionally we have to say, Hey, that fits you OK and that is the bike you will be using.

Once this is all accomplished, off we ride! Safety first is the motto, so we ride pretty conservatively and follow all the rules.

Lead the Way
Going north we often stop near the old Jaite paper mill for a mini cultural history talk and often stop at Red Lock to try to find frogs and/or snakes (frogs only for me!!). Leaders can stop anytime along the way for any nature or cultural/historical interpretation they want to include…some do lots and some don’t do much.

We try to get up to Brecksville station…bathrooms there and drinking fountain, give out snacks. Then we try to go to Eagles nest. I say “try”because it all depends on how strong your riders are. I would say most groups are able to make it.

For Groups going south, a highlight is going under the tunnel and yelling! We go to Peninsula, stop at Lock 29 and talk about many things there. There is a restroom and drinking fountain if needed. Often kids don’t need a real rest here on the way South so it may be better to just do the interpretation here.

Then we usually go over the bridge—very carefully up the hill, single file. We ride until it seems like its good to turn around. Sometimes kids get to Hunt House, often not. Hunt House benefits: bathrooms, drinking fountains, displays if open. Maybe only to deep lock—another good frog place (keep them from getting too close to edge!).

looking for Frogs
We have a time we are supposed to return to the start area for lunch. During most lunches kids are on their own/the responsibility of the teachers. (There are two lunches this year I think in which kids will be served hot dogs by Cycling Schools—the 29th and one other day).

Eagles Nest
After lunch we go for the afternoon ride. Trail groups now head out in the opposite direction on the towpath. Often there is some rearranging of groups in the afternoon based on the kids’ endurance, bike skills, etc. Some kids get solider (especially on hot days) they don’t want to ride in the afternoon, but usually the teachers encourage some form of participation instead of just sitting around.

We might have a “slow” group in the afternoon that we didn’t have in the morning. This is usually negotiated between the teachers and CS leaders. Occasionally during the ride we have some issue which requires special attention for a kid — major bike malfunction, asthma, accidents with injury, fatigue,etc.

Trail Stop
We have had very few true emergencies. We can call back to base and helpers can ride out and bring equipment, bring a tandem or be another rider to accompany a slow rider. Sometimes if there are enough adults already in the trail group and a person feels confident enough, they will just ride/walk with the child back to base.

Again, we have a time we are to get our group back to the bus area. As the kids return, they are to help wipe their bikes off and give them to volunteers to store, as well as replace helmets in appropriate place…not just drop their bikes and run!!

Once the kids are on the bus and driving out, all the volunteers line up to wave good bye to them. After the bus leaves we just finish cleaning up the area and talk about what a great day it was! Often we go to the Winking Lizard after but not always.


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Cycling Schools is a volunteer operated program in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park designed to provide a day in the Park for students from urban schools!