PAYETTE RIVER BICYCLE MOVEMENT
In the fall of 2013, McCall residents Dean and Amy Cromwell started a local nonprofit – Payette River Bicycle Movement (PRBM). Accepting donated bikes needing some work, refurbishing them, and then distributing appropriate-sized bikes and helmets to kids who otherwise wouldn’t have them is PRBM’s mission. If they don’t have a needed size of bike to refurbish, the Cromwells reach out to Boise Bicycle Project, a similar nonprofit that has a huge supply of bikes. Donnelly Elementary and McCall-Donnelly High School Special Education Department were two of PRBM’s first partners, helping match kids in need with a refurbished bike. Barbara Morgan Elementary was next. Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Christmas Drive was also an early partner, matching bikes with children in need during the holidays.
Donated bikes are refurbished and stored in a building donated by the Idaho Historical Society, near St. Luke’s Hospital. The Cromwells greet me wearing bike mechanic aprons, working in the back of “the barn” among bike stands, tools and work tables. “We’re grateful for the space. We quickly outgrew the two-car garage space that the hospital first let us use.” The current space does look and feel like a weathered barn. An older wood structure, there’s no insulation and plenty of gaps for cold air to seep in. “There’s no heat or running water,” says Dean. “The cold can be brutal in winter, when we do most of our work on the bikes. Fluids freeze, our fingers freeze, despite space heaters. We often take bikes home to work on.”
More recently, PRBM has partnered with Council Elementary and their Bike Day event in Adams County.
“Someone at Council Elementary contacted St. Luke’s about the Bike Day event, and Lyle Nelson, Director of Community Relations at St. Luke’s, referred them to us,” says Dean. Along with the Adams County Health Clinic and the Friends of the Weiser River Trail, Bike Day became a big community event over two full days. “One week before the actual event, we took 25 bikes down to the school and gave them away as a surprise at an assembly,” says Dean, smiling at the memory. As part of the event, the Cromwells and other volunteers spent an afternoon doing bike maintenance, fixing the bikes of kids who already had one. The Adams County Sheriff’s Office put on a bike rodeo, volunteers taught 3rd through 5th grade kids how to do basic bike maintenance, and then the kids and volunteers rode their bikes on the Weiser River Trail, some for as long as an hour and a half.
Before moving to McCall in 2010, the Cromwells spent seven years in Boise where Dean, a mechanical engineer by training, ran a business. “We loved coming to McCall,” says Dean, “and we wanted to raise our kids in the mountains.” Amy worked as a pastry chef and had her own business in Boise. She trained at New England Culinary Institute. “I don’t particularly miss the pastry business,” says Amy, who does, though, still bake pastries for her family and friends. Now, she’s totally hands-on with PRBM.
Thankful to live in McCall, a beautiful and welcoming place, the Cromwells wanted to give back to their new community. “Dean has always been an avid cyclist,” says Amy. “We’re raising kids here, they were starting to ride bikes. They’re seven and nine now. We wanted to do something we were passionate about and that our kids could also be involved in. We did some research, looking for a need to fill and saw that kids needed bikes.”
PRBM has grown so much that it’s pretty much a full-time job on top of raising kids. “We love it,” says Amy. “It’s super fun and rewarding. Part of our lifestyle. The community has been so supportive. We feel blessed to be involved with the community in this way.” One project the Cromwells would like to see happen is a simple bike trail behind Barbara Morgan Elementary School so that kids could ride bikes during recess. They plan to make a proposal to the school board.
Clearly PRBM’s primary mission is to get kids active on bikes. They offer bike safety classes, including one for preschoolers at Roots Forest School. Donating five tiny bikes – pedals removed so that the preschoolers propel themselves without using training wheels – and helmets, the Cromwells create obstacle courses to help the kids learn to steer and maneuver their bikes safely.
PRBM’s program of fixing bikes and finding kids who need them continues to grow and expand through Valley and Adams counties. “We’re always looking for kid’s bikes in reasonable condition that we can refurbish. We’re also looking for a donated, heated shop space in the McCall area.” PRBM is a 501(C)(3) organization, so donations of goods and funds are tax deductible. The program receives some private donations, but otherwise relies on grants and fundraising such as Idaho Gives. The Cromwells donate all their time along with other community volunteers. The more support PRBM receives, the more bikes and helmets they can distribute to kids throughout our area, giving every chance to enjoy the thrill of that first bike ride, promoting cycling skills and a healthy lifestyle while ensuring all kids get to play and ride regardless of their family’s financial circumstances. In that sense, PRBM provides an even riding field for all kids.
Learn more about Payette River Bicycle Movement here.
NATIONAL INTERSCHOLASTIC CYCLING ASSOCIATION – NICA
In addition to matching refurbished bikes with children who need them through PRBM, the Cromwells also donate their time and skills to local kids involved in mountain bike racing.
Founded in 2009, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) develops interscholastic mountain biking programs for student-athletes across the United States.
In 2015, an Idaho League of NICA was started. Someone from that organization made a presentation in McCall. Dean was present, and intrigued. A small team was started in McCall that summer and Dean dabbled in coaching the team’s six members. In 2016 Dean took on the roles of head coach and team director for the McCall team. He happily continues in both capacities. Good thing, because since the summer of 2015, the McCall team has experienced steady growth: 28 kids in 2016, 42 in 2017 and 63 this year.
Aiming for an eight-to-two ratio of riders to coaches, the McCall team needs fifteen to twenty coaches this year. “We have tremendous support in this community,” says Cromwell. “I have thirty registered coaches. Some show at every practice, some less frequently; it’s a big commitment. We’re all volunteers; there are no paid positions.” Cromwell adds that other league head coaches struggle to find help. “I’m always able to recruit volunteers, which is a good reflection on our community.”
The team also benefits from local sponsors who help defray the cost of traveling to races, bike maintenance, equipment and team uniforms.
The team is in pre-season now – April 1st through the end of June – when kids sign up, get their uniforms, and participate in fun family rides. Representatives from the Idaho Interscholastic Cycling League were at Ponderosa State Park on May 23rd for Try It Out, an opportunity for kids to try riding mountain bikes. “The program was originally to recruit team members, but now we do it just because it’s fun,” says Cromwell.
Once regular season starts July 1st, the McCall team practices by riding two evenings per week at Bear Basin or Jug Mountain, and on Saturdays at various local trail heads for longer, harder rides. All this training is in preparation for a five-race series that starts in late August and concludes in mid-October. One of the races will be at Jug Mountain on September 29th. Since 2016, McCall/Jug Mountain has hosted one of the races in the series, a great opportunity for the community to support its local team.
NICA started as a high school league. At McCall-Donnelly High School the team is considered a club sport with freshman, junior varsity and varsity levels. NICA expanded its programs to middle schools several years ago, so now sixth through eighth graders participate in races as well. There are male and female categories. “The average race last year had 500 participants,” says Dean. If there are over fifty in a class, they do wave starts. It can take all day to complete all race categories. “We arrive on Friday and set up our Pit Zone – four ten-by-ten-foot canopies with food, bike stands, and trainers to warm up on,” says Dean.
According to the NICA website, “Equality, Inclusivity, Strong Mind, Strong Body and Strong Character are the five core values of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.” Their 2017 report includes these impressive statistics: 14,381 student-athletes; 2,860 female student-athletes; 5,011 middle school student-athletes; 6,453 coaches; 777 teams; 10,000-plus volunteers, with year-over-year participation increases of nearly 40 percent.
Parents are responsible for getting their kids to races, and family camping for the weekend is encouraged at the race sites. “It’s a great way to make incredible connections with other families, and a lot of fun,” says Amy. “It will be two years before our oldest child can participate. The ability to camp with our entire family makes it work. There are lots of younger siblings at races, the next wave of mountain bikers.”
Programs like PRBM locally and NICA nationally are helping get kids on mountain bikes for the first time. And where enthused kids lead, parents often follow: whole families are getting involved in the sport, helping everyone stay fit and active while enjoying the outdoors together. While more traditional school sports – such as football – are losing numbers, NICA continues to grow and that bodes well for the future of mountain biking, a sport which school athletes can continue enjoying well into adulthood. Best of all, mountain tourist towns like McCall and its surrounding communities will benefit from the increasing number of mountain bikers looking for a place to vacation that caters to their love of challenging single track riding terrain with spectacular views.