It’s a heartwarming sight, watching a new rider roll down the trail, a slow grin spreading across his or her face—experiencing that sweet mixture of freedom, independence and pride. It’s an image that Donny Green, director of a youth bike camp in Rhode Island, has seen many times.
The Red Shed Bike Shop offers a literal bright spot in Olneyville, one of Providence’s lower-income neighborhoods. The barn-red building, set within Riverside Park, is stocked full of children’s bikes donated from local bike shops, individuals and police stations. All spring, Green and one or two other mechanics repair the bikes and get them in tip-top shape for the bike shop’s summer camp, a project of the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council.
Every student who attends the camp and needs a bike will go home with one, plus a helmet and lock. And, while registration for the camp is typically $200 per week, about 75 percent of the campers participate on a scholarship (available through grant funding) that allows them to come for only $5.
“We want to get kids outside, so we take away the barriers, like not having a bike or a parent available to take them outside," says Green.
Over the course of the summer, up to 100 children, ranging in age from 8 to 13, are taught the basics of safe cycling and simple bike repair (such as how to fix a flat) with Green and two other youth counselors. Green calls it “demystifying the bike.” It’s a popular program; the Red Shed partners with the Providence Recreation Department to offer 40 of the camp’s spots through the city’s registration system, and those sell out within two hours of opening.
An essential component to the camp is the Fred Lippitt Woonasquatucket River Greenway, a paved rail-trail that begins just steps away from the Red Shed and continues northwest to neighboring Johnston along a river affectionately known as the “Woony.” The corridor is lushly wooded, filled with wildflowers and dotted with occasional colorful paintings that share encouraging messages like ‘Embrace Change,’ ‘Stay Healthy’ and ‘Lose Yourself in Nature.’ The trail provides a convenient place for the kids to try out their new skills on rides of 5 miles or more and to learn about nature and environmental stewardship, which is worked into the curriculum, too.
05/04/17 by Anya Saretzky
“What is so great about this experience for the kids is that, even though they don’t associate their neighborhood with wildlife, the bike path and its surrounding area show them that the world is full of creatures right outside their back door,” says Green.
A few of the kids—Green estimates about 10-20 each year—have never ridden a bike at all. “Teaching them how to ride is the most trying, but also the most rewarding, part of the camp,” he says. “Actually seeing that first step is amazing.”