One of my earliest memories is from my fourth birthday, when I discovered bicycling. I remember my dad giving me his trademark “power boost” from behind as I grasped the pink handlebars tightly and concentrated on pedaling and keeping the bike upright that first time riding without training wheels. As the summer sun began to set that day I pulled my bike into the garage smiling with a scraped knee and eager to ride again; it was just the beginning of the great impact that bicycling (and trails) would have on my life.
My two wheels let me catch up with the ice cream truck as a kid, allowed me to meet up with friends across town in the summer as a tweener, and got me to and from sports practices as a high school student. In college my bike got me around campus, then it came with me to Delaware as my means of getting to my first “real job”, and it brought me through the mountains and deserts of Peru. I regularly rode 20 miles to grad school along the Midtown Greenway during the cold, dark winter mornings in Minnesota, and now my bike resides with me back in Delaware, where I continue to explore more terrain. Many of these memories with my bike were made possible by the foresight and commitment to establishing and maintaining multi-use trails where I grew up in Minnesota. My mom would never have let me ride my bike alone along the busy roads as a kid, but separate trails and grade-separated crossings connecting our neighborhood with my school (about 3 miles away), the local shopping center, and my friends’ houses provided me with a great degree of freedom and independence. Through bicycling I developed confidence, a love of physical activity, an appreciation of nature, and tenacity.
Though bicycling may have lost some of its regularity in my schedule over the years, the positive impacts of bicycling remain as valuable as ever. I still try to fit it in when I can, and I know that I can rely on a bike ride to calm my nerves, remind myself of my strength, or help loosen the fit of my jeans. One way I fit bicycling into my busy schedule is to ride to and from work on occasion. My route from home to work is a little over 10 miles between Pike Creek and North Wilmington. There is no easy, safe and direct route. I rode to work for the first time this past spring, winding my way north of Kirkwood Highway up to Route 141 at Route 48 and then following 141 up to Delaware Greenways office near Concord Pike– a harrowing stretch of ride, especially on the east bank of the Tyler McConnell bridge where eastbound cars speed into the left turn and a bicyclist must relentlessly pedal up the grade to reach the respite of a decent road shoulder. As I passed Barley Mill Plaza and headed toward the Kennett Pike interchange I noticed a trail leading up to Kennett Pike, which I had never seen before during my many car commutes. That trail became the alternate route for my second “test ride” to work.
That second ride along the alternate route from Route 141 to the exit to Kennett Pike southbound (see Map) was safer, but had its own obstacles: low branches, buckled asphalt, downed limbs and overgrowth. I have a higher level of tolerance of traffic and a confidence riding my bike than most people, but I felt that I would not ride to work much if it meant riding Route 141 from Barley Mill Road to Rockland Road. Moreover, I thought to myself “if it is a barrier to me, it must be a barrier to others.” So, I resolved to get that trail along the Route 141 exit to Kennett Pike cleared.
Months later, on Sunday, November 20, I finally got out on that trail with a group of volunteers from Widener University’s Outdoor Club to clean things up. A couple hours of work rendered the trail much more functional; bicyclists would no longer be whipped by branches or knocked off balance by downed branches or sand. I had never actually seen others on that trail in the many times I passed it by car, so I wondered a little if this work was really just going to benefit me on those occasional commutes to work; however, on clean-up day we received compliments from two groups of appreciative users passing through, including a smiling young girl. I know that this small, self-interested good deed will help me avoid the aggressive drivers, shoulder rumble strips, and debris along Route 141, and I am optimistic that it might even have a more profound impact.
The trail cleanup event was part of Delaware Greenways’ Trail Steward program, which aims to engage community members in helping with stewardship of the state’s multi-use trails and bicycling and walking routes. Delaware Greenways administers the program, in partnership with Delaware Department of Parks and Recreation (State Parks). The Trail Steward program involves engaging regular trail users to identify maintenance needs or other trail concerns and to report them, which is followed up with action by Delaware Greenways, State Parks, or other parties that have responsibility. Work sometimes necessitates heavy machinery and trained workers, but often needs can be addressed with involvement from community volunteers. Delaware Greenways and State Parks, in those cases, work to coordinate a maintenance event. If you know of places where a trail could be cleaned up please email Andrea Trabelsi (email@example.com) and also consider becoming a trained trail steward or volunteering for a trail maintenance event (visit www.delawaregreenways.org/trail_stewards.html). Becoming a Trail Steward requires minimal training through State Parks and can be a great way to motivate you to get outdoors and give to your community and also enable others to reap the benefits of bicycling.
Andrea Trabelsi works for Delaware Greenways as an urban and community planner. She is a member of Bike Delaware and is primarily a road biker around northern New Castle County.