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Bike-share program coming to Dolores
By Suzanne Strazza
The students at Southwest Open School are at it again. Service, that is. This spring’s annual Mountain Biking class is preparing a service project intended to help the community of Dolores by providing free bikes for town use.
The Mountain Biking class is a tradition in its seventh year at SWOS; it is offered each year during the Spring Intensive, a month-long learning block in which students take one class all day, five days a week.
This format allows both teachers and students to really become immersed in their subject and also to take field trips, a major element of the SWOS curriculum, without missing other classes.
Southwest Open School is an Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound School, which means that the curriculum is based on learning expeditions. In layman’s terms, the students learn by doing.
Getting outdoors, being physically fit and becoming familiar with the local community and environment are all a part of expeditionary learning.
Chad Wheelus, teacher and avid mountain-bike enthusiast, introduced the Mountain Bike class to the SWOS community for two reasons. One was to bring biking to the students as a way of getting out and getting exercise, thereby meeting expedition goals. The other was to incorporate service into a class that is fun and healthy. Service learning is a tradition within the SWOS community and ELOB, and many teachers incorporate it into their lesson plans.
In other years, the class has supported Ride the Lightning and the Cove Classic Bike Race. They have also participated in the Health and Safety Fair at the Cortez Middle School, helping to teach folks about bicycle safety. Other classes at the school have performed service in communities all the way from Kayenta to Kino Bay, Mexico.
This is their first year with the Free Bike Program. Wheelus, who teaches the class with Dave Finlay, has said that their intention is reduce the need for motorized traffic in Dolores and to promote bicycling.
Under the program, students will refurbish donated, “town-y” type bikes. The students will learn how to do this work on the bikes themselves.; community members will help with the building of bike racks.
When all is finished, the plan is to leave the bikes in the racks at various key points in Dolores, for people to use to get around town.
For example, if you drive into town from your home in Summit, you could park in one place, use the bike to run your errands in town and leave the bike back in a rack for another person’s use when you are finished. A bike can also be used to ride home on if there is a need, with the expectation that it will be returned to town the next day.
Wheelus believes the program is off to a good start.
“We have had several bikes donated from folks,” he said. “Also, Tuffy Security Products have been helping us out and the Dolores Town Board has bee extremely supportive of the project.”
As far as the town goes, there are still a few details to be worked out in order for the program to really get off the ground, but Town Clerk Ronda Lancaster is attending to them diligently.
When asked why the town is interested in this program, Lancaster responded, “Mainly for the benefit of the citizens of this town. We have a lot of people who walk and we want to offer them the opportunity to use bikes as transportation.” How did Wheelus and Finlay come up with this idea?
“This type of program has been tried in other small communities and has been fairly successful , ” Wheelus explained.
Added Finlay, “ People come to this town and stop in one store, then drive four blocks to the next. This plan would help eliminate that kind of stop-and-start driving.”
Since SWOS is in Cortez, why not do the program there?
“SWOS has a good service learning relationship with the town of Dolores – we have a history of working on other projects there, like the playground,” Finlay explained.
Wheelus added, “In the other places where this type of program has been implemented, the towns with the most success have been the smaller ones.”
“Besides,” said Finlay, “we live there, so we will have a better ability to oversee the project and be available if any problems arise.”
The obvious question is that of theft. According to Wheelus, “Any program like this has issues. I hope that the bikes don’t get stolen, but if they do then at least that means that someone is riding a bike. And, at the very least, there will be more bike racks around town for other people to park their bikes.”
Are there other reasons besides the curriculum behind the decision to commit to the project? “I love bicycles,” said Wheelus. “Having a program like this helps build community – it gets people out of cars, on the street, out and about.”
Finlay agreed. “This is truly a community effort – it includes businesses, the town board, individuals and students. Plus, once it gets going, it’s up to the community to keep it going.”
One hope is that people who are using the bikes will also help to maintain them; fix flat tires, repair chains and so on.
Jimbo Fairley, owner of Kokopeli Bike and Board, is another strong supporter of both the program and of Southwest Open School. “I support SWOS because I think they offer an opportunity for kids who might not feel comfortable in the traditional schools, to continue with their education,” he said. “This is a great idea. It is offering people who might not have a bike access to some wheels. It also has environmental benefits – it reduces pollution and it’s good for your heart.”
At press time, the students at SWOS were having their first day of Mountain Biking class. It has always been one of the most popular classes offered at SWOS and this year shouldn’t be any different. They hope to see this program up and going by the end of the term, barring any administrative glitches. For more information or to donate a bike, contact Chad Wheelus or Dave Finlay at Southwest Open, 565-1150.