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Shasta Elementary School sixth-grader Emilee Mitchell had just climbed a 1-1/2-mile hill on a mountain bike, but she was grinning as she braked for a water stop.
“It was awesome,” she exclaimed. “Hard, but awesome.”
Her next two miles would be downhill, and she was ready to go.
Mitchell joined 16 other members of the Shasta Elementary School Mountain Bike Club Saturday for a final event – a 7.5-mile trail race at Shoalwater Bay west of Klamath Falls.
“They all did so well,” said Theresa Ross, a P.E. teacher at Shasta who started the club last spring as a way to offer more after-school opportunities for elementary school students.
The 17 who participated in Saturday’s event were among 28 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders who joined the club. Ross said many of the students had never ridden a bike with gears before and some when they started were nervous riding down the small hills behind Shasta school. But many of those same students completed Saturday’s course, nailing the uphill portion and relishing the downhill, she said.
Henley High School student Jake Preston, who is helping with the club as a senior project, led the students on the course. Ross said she couldn’t have offered mountain biking without the help of volunteers, and she thanked Preston as well as teachers Nick Weaver and Stacy Johnson, retired teacher Sally Taylor, parent Matt Dodson, and Henley sophomore Gabe Preston, and her husband, Dennis Ross, who transported the mountain bikes and cooked lunch for the club on Saturday. Saturday also was National Take A Kid Mountain Biking Day.
Students earned Shasta MTB Club patches for finishing the course, and the group celebrated with hot dogs and snacks before boarding a school bus to return to Klamath Falls.
Krissy Dodson, whose fourth-grade son Drew participated in Saturday’s event, said even though her son has biked before with family she was happy he’s able to participate in the activity with his peer group.
“I think getting kids involved in something our town has to offer is pretty special,” she said, referring to the numerous outdoor opportunities and new biking trails in the Klamath Falls area.
The Klamath Trail Alliance has developed trails throughout the area, including Spence Mountain, Shoalwater Bay, Moore Park, Brown Mountain, High Lakes and portions of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Club members were able to ride mountain bikes provided by the school’s fleet of 110 bicycles. The fleet, purchased through grants, includes 75 cross and 35 mountain bikes. Students at first practiced on school grounds, working on bike control and hill climbing.
From there, they experimented on the trails at Moore Park before taking the final trip to Shoalwater Bay to ride on the Spence Mountain trail system.
Ross, who has been offering a triathlon club at the school for the last eight years, started the mountain biking club last spring as a way to offer more after-school opportunities for elementary school students.
Other plans include offering after-school archery in the winter as well as the established triathlon and track clubs in the spring. Henley and Ferguson offer triathlon clubs, and other elementary schools plan to offer archery this winter as well. Ross and other teachers who support the after-school activities do so on their own time. Other elementary schools in the Klamath County School District also offer after-school clubs, including coding and robotics.