Here’s a story with legs.
According to its organizers, the second annual Mayor’s Bike Ride UCAN Loop Urbandale slated for Saturday, May 18, not only will provide bicycling enthusiasts and families the opportunity to pedal their way through a portion of Urbandale’s touted bike trail system, but benefit the Urbandale Community Action Network (UCAN) and afford citizens a unique view of their hometown as well.
“It’s a great event for a great cause,” says Urbandale Mayor Bob Andeweg. “It’s an opportunity to use the trail system and have some fun. You can also see a part of the city that you can’t see from a car and get some exercise along the way.”
The event is designed to cater to bicyclists of all ages and abilities by offering 5-, 10- and 20-mile routes that begin and end at Charles Gabus Memorial Tree Park in Walker Johnston Park and wind their way through Urbandale’s 40 or more miles of paved bike trails.
The event starts at 1 p.m., and participants are provided a Hy-Vee lunch before the ride, a T-shirt, and water and fruit along the routes. Discounted early bird registration ($20) is available through May 14, or riders can sign up the day of the event ($25) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The cost for each additional family member who wants to ride along is $5.
“It’s not a training ride for RAGBRAI, but a family-friendly ride,” says Mary Polson, program coordinator for UCAN and one of the event’s organizers.
The ride is presented by UCAN and the Rotary Club of Northwest Des Moines. UCAN is also selling $5 raffle tickets to the Mayor’s Bike Ride, which includes nine prize packages that range from tickets to local sporting events, to vacation packages. Each raffle ticket doubles as a $5 voucher for food at participating local restaurants.
“The two goals of the ride are to acquaint people with the trails and neighborhoods and to raise money for UCAN and the Rotary Club of Northwest Des Moines. The Rotary Club had a bike ride of their own and they wanted to partner with us, so we decided to do that and split the proceeds to benefit our communities,” she says.
Polson says the idea for the Mayor’s Bike Ride was generated by the mayor himself, an avid bicyclist whose grandfather used to own a bicycle shop. Last year, UCAN hosted Tour de Trails, a walking event. After participating in it, Andeweg suggested they convert it to a bicycling event.
“The mayor’s a big bicyclist and told us how he had ridden in a similar event in Des Moines, so we decided to try it,” Polson says.
In 2012, approximately 50 people participated in the ride. This year, organizers hope participation will at least double that amount.
“I would be ecstatic if we got 150 people,” Polson says.
Polson, who rode in the first Mayor’s Bike Ride held in Des Moines in the 1980s, says organizers are hoping the Urbandale ride will continue to draw bigger crowds each year, just as the one in Des Moines has over the years.
“When it started out it was small; now there are thousands of people who ride it. Our goal is to be as big as the Des Moines ride someday,” she says.
She says maintaining a balance between adult bicyclists and families is key to the event’s success, as well as providing new routes each year. This year’s event will direct riders on the 20-mile trail as far west on Douglas Avenue as 156th Street, then north to Meredith Drive, following south on 82nd Street and back to Walker Johnston Park.
“We want to incorporate as many neighborhoods and trails as possible on the three routes,” Polson says. “Next year, the new Bob Leighton Trail should be completed in Walnut Creek Hills Park, so we will revise our route to use it. That trail will be about a mile long.”
Polson says Urbandale boasts about 40 miles of trails with plans for another 20 or more to be built in the future.
“The trails are a great way for families to spend time together outdoors. Our trails in Urbandale are also connected to other trails throughout the Des Moines area,” she says.
May is National Bike Month, and bicyclists can learn how to use Urbandale’s trails to bike to neighboring Windsor Heights and Water Works Park for a free family ride on May 11. Riders should meet at the Urbandale Public Library parking lot at 8 a.m. for the event which is hosted by the Bike Month Committee and Urbandale Parks and Recreation. Helmets are required.
Polson says she hopes people also recognize the value of the Mayor’s Bike Ride because of its philanthropic value. Proceeds generated from the event will benefit UCAN. The 501(c) nonprofit group serves as the umbrella organization for the Urbandale Caring Corps, Leadership Urbandale, Urbandale Friends of the Park and Character Counts in Urbandale. Additionally, UCAN focuses on projects related to strengthening neighborhoods, infrastructure, communications, human services, student programs and events.
For example, some of the monies raised by the event will help fund local projects for youth and the elderly. Urbandale Caring Corps, which provides local residents who need transportation to the grocery store, doctor appointments or other errands, will benefit from the event as will the Urbandale Food Pantry, which provides local families and students with food assistance. The food pantry partners with the Des Moines Area Religious Council, the Urbandale Ministerial Alliance, local churches, civic groups, city officials and area residents to provide food to those in need.
“UCAN, which started in 2001 by another name before relaunching in 2010, helps serve a variety of people throughout the community,” says Polson. “You might not think that people in Urbandale are in need of help, but it’s true.”
Some of the money raised from the Mayor’s Bike Ride will also help support the free Movies in the Park program that was launched last year. The budget for the new program is about $8,000, which includes fees to purchase film and sound equipment as well as royalties to rent movies. Last year, organizers screened two films, each of which drew more than 200 attendees.
“We decided based upon last year’s turnout that it was a worthwhile event to continue to pursue,” Polson says.
UCAN’s program coordinator says the organization focuses on fundraising and “friend raising” events, each specifically designed to generate funding or crowds.
“Next year we hope to add a golf event to the summer calendar so that in addition to the Mayor’s Bike Ride, the spaghetti dinner and Mardi Gras events, we will have a fundraiser during each season of the year. We did the same thing for our ‘friend raising’ when we added a Snow Day event a couple of years ago,” she says. “I love seeing new projects get off the ground and seeing them make progress as more people attend them.”
Connecting people and organizations to strengthen the community, Polson adds, is the driving force behind UCAN.
“As funds allow, we want to add more programs. Last year we partnered with the Food Bank of Iowa to provide backpacks of food for kids during the weekends during the school year. We packed about 150 backpacks each Friday, but we’d like to be able to do more. That’s why it’s so important to support events like the Mayor’s Bike Ride,” she says.