Nonprofit Spotlight: Mountain bike club hits trail to help youth | PostIndependent.com

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Nonprofit Spotlight: Mountain bike club hits trail to help youth

The Roaring Fork Valley is home to dozens of well-established nonprofits that have been serving the community and helping our high quality of life for decades. Many of these have their own offices or facilities, large volunteer forces and the longtime financial support of local philanthropists.

But what about new organizations — how do they gather resources and create a space for themselves in a valley saturated with other charitable groups? Older nonprofits by no means have things "easy," so to speak, but younger organizations can often face a unique set of challenges that more established ones do not.

The first important step, as brand new nonprofit Roaring Fork Cycling discovered, is to avoid duplicating services. Founding board member and Carbondale mom Trina Ortega noted that tapping into an uninhabited niche was an important factor in starting the group.

"When I first began telling people about the work we wanted to do I assumed they would think, 'Oh, great, another nonprofit in the valley,'" she said. "But the service we provide just isn't offered anywhere else in the way that we are hoping to provide it."

Many parents of area middle-schoolers may already be familiar with Roaring Fork Cycling's new free after-school programming and mission of empowering young people through biking. The group this month will begin offering regular bike club meetings to students at Basalt Middle School and Aspen Middle School, with plans to get started in Carbondale this fall and in Glenwood as soon as possible.

Ortega credits her son with the lightbulb moment that eventually spurred her to seek out a way to help form the youth cycling nonprofit.

"My son now attends Roaring Fork High School, but about four years ago when he was at Carbondale Middle he wanted to start a mountain biking club," she recalled. "We had just taken one of his friends out to ride in Moab with a borrowed bike and borrowed helmet, a friend who had never really done something like that before, and the two of them just had a blast. I think it was a moment in my son's life when he got to really share something he loved with one of his buddies, so later he had the idea to want to help other kids be able to enjoy the same thing."

Ortega's son wanted to start out by organizing group rides after school, and soon things began to fall into place.

"Like every overworked, overcommitted parent, I said, 'This is awesome, let's do it,'" Ortega joked. With the help of a few other parents, she facilitated the club meetings until around the time her son moved on to high school.

Fast forward to the fall of 2016, when Ortega met with two other local champions of youth biking, Rob Russell of Carbondale and Jonathan Delk of Aspen, to discuss how they might be able to combine forces and form a bonafide nonprofit. Although her son was now much older, Ortega recognized that a need remained within the local middle schools.

"We got together and discussed things in the same way that many crazy biking adventures start — over beers," she said, laughing. "We knew that it would be a lot of work, a lot of organizing and planning, but that the need in the community was there and that we wanted to find a way to make it happen. At the end we toasted, and decided to go for it."

Delk, who coaches the Aspen High School mountain biking team, had already made connections with some of the local schools, parents and teachers, and also brought the name Roaring Fork Cycling to the table. The trio soon got to work establishing a working board and a team of experienced coaches to help get things off the ground. They also needed to arrange for insurance and apply for the all-important 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status that will soon allow donors to make tax-deductible donations.

"Chris Geiger of Balcomb & Green in Glenwood has helped us wade through all the legal documents needed," Ortega said. "It could take anywhere from six months to a year to get the official certification, but everything is underway."

Roaring Fork Cycling hosted a launch party earlier in April to introduce the new organization to the community and drum up support from interested locals. Ortega reported that turnout was great and resulted in a few sponsorships and several volunteer sign-ups. The group will also host an upcoming bike swap fundraiser — all ages, mountain and road bikes, clothing, accessories and parts — from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 6 at Crown Mountain Park.

Ortega noted that in addition to expanding their after-school activities, the organization will be partnering with the Snowmass Village Recreation Center this summer to offer mountain biking programming. More partnerships and summer camp plans are in the works, and the board is looking forward to working with others as much as possible to bring the love of cycling to as many local kids as they can.

"We're still building right now, but we're dreaming big. At the end of the day, it's all about empowering our local youth," Ortega said. "And, of course, having fun and getting fit."

Roaring Fork Cycling can be found on social media and at RoaringForkCycling.org.