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Community partnerships lead to Wy’east Bike Park

bikeAs Wy’east Middle School students return to their school campus this spring, they see the beginning of the Wy’east Bike Park, which was designed to create accessible opportunities for the Odell community to engage in healthy physical activities. 

The Wy’east Bike Park is in phase one of the project where 30 volunteers have worked more than 90 hours to transform the grass and sod at Wy’east Middle School into a rideable bike trail. Once phase one is complete, the park will include a 1.12 mile single track loop around the Wy’east Middle School campus and a smaller skills loop closer to the school building. The skills loop may be used by students during school hours for physical education and elective classes as well as by the public between dawn and dusk during non-school hours. For phase two, the Wy’east Bike Park may include a pump track, features to build technical skills, and longer single track loops. 

Wy’east Middle School staff including Andy Nelsen, Ashlie Sorestad, Emily Kohner, Patrick Getchis, Brian Stenberg, and Eugene Strobeck are key stakeholders who shared the vision behind this project. They have written grants and mobilized community members to launch the project. 

Hood River Lions Club, Odell Lions Club, and Providence Hospital donated three large contributions toward this project. Hood River County School District (HRCSD) hired Gary Paasch, Wy’east Middle School alumnus, to design and build the bike park. Paasch raced mountain bikes professionally and works as a personal trainer, trail builder, and private bike coach in Hood River. When Paasch was a Wy’east student, he remembers dreaming about a bike trail at Wy’east Middle School. Seeing this dream come true is rewarding for Paasch. 

In addition to the three community donations, the Riding for Focus grant project funded by Specialized Bicycle Components propelled the start of the Wy’east Bike Park. Hood River Bicycle Company, Fat Tire Farm, Mountain View Cycles, Beargrass Cycles, and the Hood River Area Trail Stewards (HRATS) have also jumped on board to support the project by dedicating their time and expertise.

The Riding for Focus grant provided 31 mountain bikes to support middle schools in offering biking as a part of physical education classes. Schools awarded the grant are participating in a research project through a new program, Outride, to examine the impact biking has on focus and cognitive development. The schools will gather information related to students’ academic and social success and share it with university researchers. The goal of the research is to determine how bicycling can help people overcome challenges. 

The Wy’east Middle School staff assisting with the project said the original goal of this project was to look at how regular physical exercise could assist students in focusing in school and participating in their academic classes. The staff said they feel that getting students moving and participating in lifelong physical activities will have positive effects on students now and in the future. 

Staff said their students will be offered a sequential training program in bicycle use and safety. Students will learn skills that they may use for the rest of their lives. 

Nelsen said, “There's an intangible aspect, too. By bringing a fun activity into the school day, we hope students develop even more positive connections with their school and their teachers. In addition to offering bicycling during PE, we also offer it during the Bytes and Bikes elective class that teaches bike skills and maintenance. And we also offer an after school mountain biking club, which is funded through Excel and makes use of the bicycles granted to the school through the Specialized/Outride grant.”

HRATS volunteers, including Rich Truax, Craig Spaeth, and Michelle Morelos, along with other lead volunteers will offer students opportunities to lend their voices on the bike park as well as help build the trails and features they would like to see in the upper Hood River valley. The volunteers who are leading the construction of the Wy’east Bike Park will need additional help. If you are interested in helping, please contact Nate Parson, Wy’east Middle School assistant principal, at nate.parson@hoodriver.k12.or.us.