On Sunday, North Carolina officially became part of the growing National Interscholastic Cycling Association, (NICA) as the 19th state to begin middle and high school mountain biking. The High Country was represented by Zach Clark of Cranberry Middle School with the Avery County Composite Cycling Club.
With 200 total racers present for the day of racing, 100 were middle school students with 50 racing in the eighth grade race with Zach. NICA has opened up so many opportunities for youth to learn how to ride and participate in a bike race. Their motto is “more kids on bikes.”
The Avery County Composite Cycling Club is one of the inaugural teams in the NC league. Having NICA in the Avery School system has created some amazing opportunities for our local youth. Once the school system was presented with the new league, Dr. Burleson agreed to make the team a school sanctioned club. When we presented the need for a practice facility, the open land at Banner Elk Elementary school was offered as a possible location.
The Cycle4Life Bike Park was started and now includes 20 wooden features, dirt berms, and 1.5 miles of trail. The trail is divided into three ½ mile loops. Including rock gardens, log piles, wooden pallets features, table tops, creek crossings and bridges. Because the park is built on school property, the park is open to the general public whenever school is not in session. That includes; evenings, weekends, holidays and all summer long.
Dr. Burleson and the Avery School system opened up the trails for the Banner Elk students to ride as part of their Physical Education program, headed up by Benny Wellburn. The program was such a hit that we have now begun a park and trail system at Riverside Elementary School. Benny is excited about also including cycling into the PE program at Riverside. This will allow us to teach mountain biking skills at two elementary schools in our county.
It is possible that we could be the only school system in the country that offers this opportunity to our students, with trails right on campus. It is our vision to first build a park at each elementary school so we can get our 3, 4 and 5 grade students on bikes. Then we hope to get a trail built at each school in our community.
With the new NICA league offering opportunities for Middle and High School students, we have now created a program that will help to develop our youth in the skills of mountain biking from 3 to 12th grade. With the parks at our county schools we now have safe places for our youth to ride their bikes. Exciting times for cycling and our youth in the NC High Country.