Catalina mountain high - Tucson Local Media: Import

Catalina mountain high

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Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2003 11:00 pm

Hank Rowe went spelunking and kayaking with preeteens when he taught at Amphitheater Middle School.

So it's no wonder that when he began his teaching job at Coronado K-8 School, nestled in the Catalina Mountain foothills, his thoughts turned to mountain biking.

"I've lived here all my life," he said. "As a kid I loved BMX bikes."

Soon, Coronado K-8 School's property will abound with helmeted preteens negotiating tricky twists and turns on bicycles with hefty wheels. Due to the efforts of Rowe and other adventured-minded adults, the school is getting a mountain bike trail.

It should be rideable by mid-November, and the public is free to show up and practice mountain bike riding after school hours, Rowe said.

"It's low-impact, except when you hit the ground," he said.

The trail will run about three miles, which is probably about a 20-minute stretch for beginners, Rowe said. Students who join the school's new biking club must sign waivers and wear helmets.

Plans for the bike trail began last year when Dave Berry was a vice principal at the school. Berry liked rugged bike trails.

He enlisted the help of Kai Henifin, the Americorps VISTA worker on campus. Before long, she was busy procuring a trail-building grant from the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

When another Tucson area school dedicated its own trail, Henifin was there on a bike testing it out and sizing up students' reactions.

"I saw how the kids were enjoying it," she said.

Few middle schools have designated spots where students are meant to forge down rocky paths on two wheels, but Emily Gray Junior High School beat Coronado K-8 School as the first in Tucson.

Positioned near the base of Mt. Lemmon, the school took advantage of its foothill terrain and opened its two-and-a-half-mile trail in February.

Safety was the impetus.

Unlike at Coronado K-8 School, some of the students already belonged to a school-sponsored biking club. The regular practices put the fifth- through eighth-graders on public roads.

"They were having close calls with cars," said Emily Mann, the club's coach.

With the help of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, Mann tracked down more than 50 biking enthusiasts from across the United States who coach students. They offered encouragement in great supply, but none of them could relate precisely to what her school was trying to do.

"Nobody else had a trail on campus," Mann said.

But Emily Gray Junior High School got its biking trail, and Henifin left its grand opening to help Coronado K-8 School get one.

The idea was, and is, that the school's biking club would exist primarily to serve students in Project ACHIEVE, a before and after-school tutoring program for academically struggling students. Those who finish their homework in time get to hit the trail.

But the club is open to any student in the sixth through eighth grades.

"We wanted to develop something that not just ACHIEVE students could enjoy, but that everybody could," Henifin said.

When Rowe accepted a job as Coronado K-8 School's new eighth-grade social studies teacher, he didn't know the school was a few steps away from having a mountain bike trail.

As a former leader of a high-adventure club for pre-teens, Rowe had enjoyed cave exploration. He liked water rapids, too. But he loved mountain biking.

Before he knew it, he had a bike club and trail to build.

The club has held a few meetings. The trail will start to take shape the first weekend of November.

Club participants, parents and generous community members will scrape away vegetation to create switchbacks, tight turns and downhill runs.

All costs of the trail were covered by local businesses and community members, the school's parent-teacher organization, and a grant.

Adventurous bikers may enjoy the trail's rocks and plants, which serve as natural obstacles, but they will find no jumps.

"There will be elements that will be challenging but we're not looking to scare away beginning riders," Rowe said.

Rather, the gentle trail will prepare beginners for the bigger challenges of off-campus weekend rides.

"This way when we do go out on other trails, they'll feel comfortable," Rowe said.

Club members will learn about safety using Sprockids curriculum, which also teaches basic warm-up stretches, bike maintenance and water-drinking habits.

Rowe said he hopes the new trail will spark students' interest in a sport that he has loved since he was a teenager. He hopes science classes will use it as a nature trail.

He said he expects future homeowners at the Black Horse Ranch development, which is rising up near the school's baseball diamonds, will use it.

But primarily, his new mountain bike club members will use the trail to engage in high adventure in safe proximity to school.

"One nice thing about a trail on campus," he said, "is that if kids get a flat tire and hurt themselves, you're closer to help."

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