Cyclists launched their functional art in Link Creek. photo courtesy Black Butte Eco Bikers
Cyclists launched their functional art in Link Creek. photo courtesy Black Butte Eco Bikers
This was the 4th season for Heather Walden to take her Sisters Country kids out on what she calls “One part biking, one part nature watching and one part art creating” — exploration from Camp Sherman to Suttle Lake and back.

She had a thousand ideas swimming around in her head for new and exciting ways to present opportunities to her bikers for exploring their beautiful surroundings. One way was to help out in a survey of local bumblebees. This would be a wonderful way to bring kids closer to the nature of their land and obtain a good idea of how our local bumblebees were doing.

Then came March and COVID-19. Walden was about to throw in the towel for the year. But one of her faithful volunteers, the father of one of her regular bikers, Matt Middlestetter, reached out and made some suggestions. Then a mom, another faithful follower of the bikers, got them all together to discuss the Oregon Health Authority’s guidelines for summer day camps, and ideas began to flow.

And, according to Walden, this was the outcome:

“The kids have all been wonderful and the parents all very supportive as well. We wore masks and had hand sanitizer spray. We reduced the hours and split the group into two smaller groups every other week. The previous year we had discussed splitting the group up, so it was already in the plan for this season.”

And away they went.

One week they had the younger group, “regular” program, and the next week was the group of older boys that Walden named “The Advanced JR Trail Masters Team.” 

Many of the older kids had outgrown the basic simplicity of the program to explore nature, learn about butterflies and noxious weeds, and visit the landfill transfer center to learn about the recycle programs.

Walden observed, “They had all become quite good at riding and were more interested in the art of mountain biking. They all nicknamed it Bike Camp. They loved the summer memories of riding bikes with friends and swimming at Suttle Lake and all the various art projects we had made at the lake. All kids love art! The kids’ all-time favorite is making boats out of natural materials and then racing the boats in the creek.”

Since Walden and her volunteers wanted to keep the kids riding and exploring into nature, it became clear that in the coming years they would be old enough to organize rides with friends themselves. So they focused on teaching them how to read maps and understand trails to evaluate the routes before riding, along with enforcing the need for all the safety gear in their packs before heading out into the forest.

“Wow! They loved it — and wanted more,” Walden said.

The regular program for the younger kids ran this summer with fewer kids. They had a great introduction to mountain biking and the pace was slower, with many stops to rest and discuss the natural habitats along the way to Suttle Lake.

One of the real pluses of the program was the young cyclists being able to observe the impact campers have on the area, and the reasons why it’s so important to “Leave No Trace” when out in nature. To make this stop even more fun, the kids have hidden a geocache near this campsite and named it, “Leave No Trace,” and they love to let the new kids in the biking program find it.

To learn more about Black Butte Eco Bike Explorers visit www.bbekids.org.