National Park Service Mountain Bike Unit

“Race, eh eha 12-year-old exclaimed as he got out of the van with a dozen peers, in the parking lot at the Malibu Creek State Park trailhead. He and the others waved to Race Headen, the hike leader in mountain biking, coordinator and programmer of the Youth Adventures program.

Co-hosted by the National Park Service (NPS), the Youth Adventures program offers bi-monthly get-togethers to facilitate outdoor opportunities for children with limited access to public lands. The majority of today’s group of kids had never traveled outside of Los Angeles or ridden their bikes.

Headen smiled and shouted, “You came back!” welcoming the children, a handful of whom were back for their second outing. “Every time the kids come back to ride with us and they call me, I’m always won over. I know that means I connected with that kid,” Headen says.

“We serve children who are linked to the system, such as a police youth program, in temporary accommodation, or those in protective custody, probation or other violations. I tell them, “Do what you have to do to get back and ride again,” says Headen.

“We’re here to ride the bikes,” Headen told the child. He also talks about the Mountain Bike Unit (MBU) as a whole, a team of volunteer patrollers on wheels – decked out in bright yellow jerseys with a designated patch – who promote education and responsible trail use in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA), the largest urban national park in the world.

The Role of the NPS MTB Unit

Started in the late 1980s, the MBU Bike Patrol program is a joint effort between several area land managers. Before embarking on field work, MBU volunteers are trained in first aid, CPR, visitor contact skills and responding to scenarios such as approaching illegal campers or assisting an injured hiker.

At the pre-pandemic peak of the program, almost 200 cyclists were working on behalf of the MBU. “After the pandemic halted, as soon as we received the green light to start onboarding volunteers and bringing them back to provide in-person services, MBUers were one of the first groups we had to bring back into parks,” says Sarah Koenen, volunteer program manager and supervising ranger for the NPS. Today, 100 riders are active in the unit, providing 100 annual hours of dedicated trail service via two wheels.

The MBU was born out of a need for peace and inclusiveness amid the growing popularity of mountain biking, says MBU coordinator Stacey Best, who oversees the unit and served as a patrol for nearly 15 years. Three decades ago, “people were starting to get excited about mountain biking on the trails of the Santa Monica Mountains. Riders and hikers were shocked and scared to see this new means of transportation in the mountains – bikers were riding fast – and contacted the rangers. There had to be rules, so everyone could get along,” says Best.

Enter, the MBU patrollers, who set a positive example for passing cyclists while ensuring that the outdoor space remains in good condition for all trail users. “The impulse for MBU was to make sure everyone was having a good time in the park. We are also the eyes and ears on the pitch,” says Best.

The MBU teaches visitors interesting facts about the park, hands out maps, provides directions, flags trails that need maintenance, responds to incidents, and alerts law enforcement or medical responders in an emergency. . “MBU volunteers help the public have a safe and enjoyable experience without harming the park for future generations,” says Koenen, who manages all volunteer programs.

Adventures for young people: invite children to explore the trails

Started in 1993, the Youth Adventures program is a joint effort facilitated by MBU Patrol volunteers and supported by the Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association (CORBA).

The MBU introduces more than 350 children to mountain biking and the outdoors every year through this program. While working with children from all walks of life, Headen says, “You realize you have no idea what another person is going through or can’t imagine the challenges children face in their lives. It’s important to put effort into programs for at-risk youth, so they know they have someone on their team.

Headen, 58, dove into helping the program 15 years ago, a year after starting as a volunteer with MBU in 2006. He grew up in the foothills of Alabama, where he rode his bike when he was a child and spent time outdoors having fun. As an adult, his outdoor lifestyle offered rejuvenation and enjoyment.

After moving to the West Coast, Headen discovered mountain biking and started riding the trails of Rancho Palos Verdes and Westridge Singletrack 21 years ago. When a handful of riders invited him to ride singletrack in the Santa Monica Mountains, Headen was hooked. Every weekend he came back with a bag full of food and spent whole days in the recreation area.

Eventually, Headen crossed paths with the MBUers in their yellow jerseys. “They told me about MBU, and I was like, ‘I’m here all the time. Why not join? is introduced to MBU and the Youth Adventures program, also accompanied by his two sons, then ages 3 and 5. His boys, now in high school and college, still ride today.

Headen says he also thinks it’s important for kids to have a group leader they can relate to. “I’m black and if they see someone who looks like them riding a mountain bike, then those kids – and especially the ones who’ve been in trouble – can imagine themselves doing that: riding a bike,” he explains. -he.

To start the morning, Headen and the group leaders check to see if the kids know how to ride a bike (and teach those who have never ridden a bike), then hold a bike handling clinic. This clinic covers skills such as identifying front and rear brakes, how to shift gears, how to sit and place your feet, and safety. Riders practice riding and shifting before exploring the park’s singletrack. Rides range from five to 10 miles, tailored to children’s ages, abilities, and goals.

“We teach the kids a lesson about the park – from wildlife to natural history and interpretive elements – and how to ride in a group, like not stopping too close to each other and giving each other a boost. space,” says Matt Morse, who has been an MBU volunteer, Youth Adventures leader, and bike maintenance manager for the children’s bike park for nearly 15 years.

How to support the MBU mission

One of the main messages from the MBU is that mountain bike trails should be welcoming to everyone. To help engage you in their mission from your own neighborhood, aim to create an inclusive atmosphere for all people and skill levels on your local trails.

To start making this happen, slow down when passing others (and know the speed limit regulations in your driving zone), says Koenen. Communicate by saying “bike approaching”. If your trail allows riders, be sure to slow down or stop on approach and ask if you can pass the horse, making sure the horse can see you and hear you talking.

If you want to help young people learn to ride a bike, think of the ride as a day out rather than focusing on mileage or an end point. Headen says, “We assess how the kids are doing along the way. There are times when we stop and let the kids have free time outdoors, like picking up rocks or watching caterpillars. Instead of trying to get to the destination, we let the child enjoy the moment.

In addition to getting involved in the Youth Adventures program and the programs of the Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association, another non-profit organization called Trips for Kids has chapters all over the country and you can get involved with sponsorships, start a program or volunteer, says CORBA President Steve. Messer. Messer also suggests volunteer opportunities and bike donations as another way to get involved with the NPS Youth Adventures program.

A handful of other national programs that also support young people on bikes:

  • Join one of the national programs to win a bike that helps kids ride
  • Support All Kids Bike, a movement organized by the Strider Education Foundation to launch free Learn-To-Ride programs in kindergarten physical education classrooms in public schools
  • Volunteer with a local bike organization for at-risk youth, like Lucky to Ride

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