When Thea Garrett applied for the Greg Siple Award for Young Adult Bike Travel in 2017 she didn’t know where she’d be living the following year. As a seasonal National Park Service employee, she did know that she’d be able to complete a bicycle outreach project no matter where she was.
Thea jumped at the chance to work in Kotzebue, Alaska, a village hub for the Northwest Arctic region, where youth make up nearly 40 percent of the population. Thea’s role with the NPS in Kotzebue was to teach science and history curriculum. She connected the dots to the Greg Siple Award and facilitated youth bike safety, instruction, and maintenance. Thea also organized a Bike Your Park Day ride.
The Greg Siple Award helps young adults get in the saddle and out on the road by providing the skills and the gear needed for a lifetime of bicycle travel adventure. In exchange, the winners like Thea perform an outreach project that will inspire youth and/or young adults in marginalized communities to travel by bike.
The youth in Kotzebue spend a lot of unstructured time roaming around town by bicycle.
While working for the National Park Service we did 3-hour weekly bicycle roves with a trailer, bringing educational props around town to do a lesson about natural and cultural history. Youth would frequently tag along forming a bicycle caravan throughout town over the course of the program. Average outreach for the weekly program was between 25-60 youth.
I scheduled, organized and facilitated a Bike Your Park Day event. Because all of the parks in our region are only accessible by snowmobile, boat, or plane it wasn’t feasible to bike within the park units, instead we scheduled a community bike ride. I recognized that most members of the community had never been on an organized ride, severe winds altered the course the day of the ride and we rerouted the ride throughout town to the local parks to do a clean up. With the long days, youth spend a lot of their free time at the parks throughout the summer months and without extensive trash disposal infrastructure in the remote community it can accumulate. We brought a scale to weigh in the trash, prizes, and snacks and hot beverages for the blustery day. Total participation was 34, with over 80 pounds of trash collected.
It was exciting to see the amount of biking that happened in my community, particularly with youth. Biking gave young people a sense of independence and I would see kids as young as five wrenching on their bikes and doing wheelies. I loved being able to be responsive to the biking culture that already existed and adapting my project to the specific needs within the community. It gave me the perspective that community bike projects should be a reflection of local conditions and needs. There are a lot of opportunities for bike outreach in rural communities and that energizes me.
“Getting people on bikes and strengthening the rapport between gateway communities and public land is something that I am passionate about. This kind of community outreach project has the potential to be scaled up or down and be replicated in other towns adjacent to public lands.” -Thea Garrett
The 2020 Greg Siple Award application is open until December 31. Four winners, ages 18 – 30 years old, take an Adventure Cycling educational course and get the gear they need for a lifetime of bike adventure. In exchange, they perform an outreach project to people in underrepresented communities such as but not limited to women, LBGTQI people, people of color, indigenous people, refugees, and people with disabilities. Sponsors of the Greg Siple Award include New Belgium Brewing, Surly Bikes, BikeFlights.com, Big Agnes, Arkel, and Bedrock Sandals.