Thank you to Miri Hardy, Executive Director of Friends of Myakka River, for sharing about last year's Bike Your Park Day ride at Myakka River State Park in Florida.
The creative event combined biking, public works and poetry! We're hosting Bike Your Park Day in conjunction with National Public Lands Day again this year, so if Miri's event is inspiring, register to lead a trip near you, or join an existing ride!
We asked Miri to tell us more about how she got involved in cycling.
Adventure Cycling: How did you get involved with Friends of the Myakka River and Bike Myakka?
Miri: Like many, at the start of the pandemic, I started spending a LOT of time outside in nature. I always enjoyed spending time at Myakka River State Park, one of Florida's oldest, and largest, State Parks, and typically rode the park's stunning paved 7-mile main drive . During the pandemic, the park offered a safe, beautiful, and, importantly, very spacious, place to get away from it all. And, aided by a mountain bike I thankfully purchased before bike supplies ran out, I started exploring Myakka's extensive backcountry trails, and quickly became an off-road convert!
What with spending so much time in the park, after a few months, I had a suggestion (or ten!) for park staff, especially in regard to making the park more bike (and biker) friendly. Serendipitously, Ranger Zack Westmark, one of the park's amazing rangers, is a keen cyclist, and he was just starting to introduce well needed bike amenities in the park.
The new amenities, as well as the over-riding goal to encourage biking in the park, also created momentum for introducing bike-centric programming. So, we joined forces and started planning a fun bike event for National Bike Month, with swag, custom routes and even a scavenger hunt. And, thanks to financial support from Friends of Myakka River, a non-profit organization that exists to support Myakka River State Park and the Wild and Scenic Myakka River, our new Bike Myakka! Initiative was born.
During this time, I also started working for the Friends of Myakka River as a Social Media Manager and consultant. And, to make a long story short, that position evolved into my current role as Executive Director, working with the board of Friends of Myakka River to achieve a new level of impact for our organization, especially in the areas of fundraising, outreach, community engagement and environmental education.
What's your background as a cyclist? What are challenges to cycling in your particular area?
I used to exclusively road ride for exercise, pleasure and as a mode of transportation (when possible), but, thanks to the pandemic, now very much enjoy off-road riding. Safety when biking on roads here in Sarasota is a major issue and concern, as is the lack of dedicated bike lanes in my area. So, taking my bike to the park, with its much quieter roads, is a safer, and definitely picturesque, alternative.
How would you recommend folks plan their own local service event for BYPD/NPLD? Who would you suggest trying to contact first?
Focus on a park you love and enjoy biking: This is a great opportunity to give back to a place that you care about, and fill you with joy all year round. Then, figure out what agency manages this public land and reach out and see if they have any projects you could get involved with. Picking up trash is, sadly, often a viable project, and one where even a small group could make a big difference.
What is Bike Myakka! and Friends of Myakka River planning for this September and how can folks support your work?
We will partner with our park staff to combine a stewardship project at the park with a fun, and informative, guided bike ride, in an event we call “Bike Myakka! for Biodiversity.” In keeping with our mission to protect Myakka, we have planned a service component to our event: We will be hand-pulling Air Potato Vine, a highly aggressive invasive species. Our event will be augmented by a guided bike ride, to offer participants a deeper dive (or ride, as the case maybe) into exactly why invasive plants are such a big issue at the park (and Wild Florida in general), how this threat came to be, and, importantly, what we can each personally do to help.
The haikus were a fun component of last year's event, and not something I'd expect from a public service event - can you share more about how event organizers decided to incorporate creativity and art into the activities?
Rather than having a traditional “debrief”, I wanted to incorporate a meaningful, mindful, and memorable opportunity for participants to process their thoughts and feelings at the end of what was designed to be a fairly complex, multifaceted event. Haikus are short poems, where the first line has five syllables, the second has seven, and third and final line has five. Importantly, they focus on the senses and vividly describe images so the reader vicariously experiences the moment, or feeling. So, they provided the perfect vehicle for accomplishing this goal. We asked participants take a few minutes to reflect on their experiences that day and write down the images and thoughts that came to mind. They then created a haiku that described their feelings. And, based on the participants' evocative haikus, I think the exercise was a great success!