Parkdale wins Bicycle Challenge

It’s not quite David and Goliath on two wheels, but the county’s smallest school defeated the team from the largest school in an annual bicycling competition.

For the fourth straight year, Parkdale School’s “Bicycle Challenge” team has won the intra-county bike commuting competition, part of a statewide effort organized by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), a Portland-based advocacy group.

The eight-person Parkdale team topped Hood River Valley High School and its four riders, in competition based on percentage of overall staff who participate.

The BTA reported that in Oregon and Southwest Washington, 252 businesses, agencies and non-profits participated, with 3,014 riders making a total of 38,819 trips covering 176,000 miles.

HRVHS teacher Cary Mallon, the county Challenge coordinator, said the tradition got going four years ago when he saw a BTA flyer.

“I thought, ‘hey, we need to do this.’ September was a good month for us because it’s the best weather of any when we’re in school,” he said.

“It gets people motivated,” said kindergarten teacher Kathleen Welland, who coordinates the Parkdale team. Welland reports there are mental as well as physical benefits from regular riding. She lives about four miles from the school.

Welland has bicycled across country before, but she emphasized that the Challenge involved people of all bicycling backgrounds and all grades of equipment.

“It really bonded us as fellow staff members,” she said.

Participants can ride daily or one or two days each week, but results are based on how well each person meets individual goals and on the percentage of participants from each organization.

“This is why Parkdale is so far and away the champ: they have eight or so out of 30 staff members, and we have 5-6 out of 100,” Mallon said.

For Mallon, an Odell resident, riding to school saves time.

“I’m gonna ride my bike anyway, and if I do it on the way to and from work, it saves me some time I don’t have to sit in the car, and it saves me some fuel. For me it’s about fitness and being environmentally helpful,” Mallon said. “It’s not really to make friends with drivers,” he joked.

Welland as well as fellow rider Elise Tickner report that the Upper Valley, with winding roads and narrow (or non-existent) shoulders, is not the most bicycle-friendly area, but that the exercise and peace of mind from alternative transportation make it worth it.

Welland added that the BTA “has a great end to their phone message that has become my own personal thought — ‘Smile at the motorists, you are having more fun than they are!’ This is always true when I am on my bike and hope it is true for other bike commuters.”

Though participation has dwindled, Mallon remains hopeful of keeping the Challenge going. Next year, Mallon said he will try to encourage more on-line sign-ups, though this year the BTA Web site was hard to reach from school computers.

“Hopefully we can get that rectified and be able to have more participation,” Mallon said.

He described BTA as “a well-used organization throughout the Willamette Valley.”

“As far as I know Hood River (County School District) is the only people in the county involved with it.” He said he also wants to get more local shops involved in offering incentive discounts to riders.

“Next year we’ll try to get them on board,” Mallon said.

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