SARATOGA SPRINGS — A rapidly growing girls organization has propositioned the city to support an outdoor bike park that would have terrain sculpted for having fun on bikes while developing their skills.
The group, Saratoga Shredders, a mountain-biking program for girls ages 5 to 12, and whose enrollment grew from 20 to more than 200 girls in a span of months, has a goal of raising $400,000 to design and build the park.
If approved by city officials, the Shredders group would like to start construction in October, after embarking on a months-long fundraising campaign.
The bike park will need about 2.5 acres of city land, preferably near the city center or close to schools and downtown.
If approved, the park would belong to the city and would be operated and maintained by Saratoga Springs.
The group, which has 60 volunteer female mentors, says the park would help families that don’t have the means to bring their child somewhere such as a trailhead to practice mountain biking.
The proposed bike park would include a paved pump track with berms and rollers, uniquely designed to help beginners build skills and confidence, while allowing experts to challenge themselves, the proposal states.
There are only about 40 paved pump tracks in the country, the organization said.
Saratoga Shredders founder Anna Laloë and a contingent of youth riders — Sophia Murray, Rhiannon Curtis, Anna Yarsevich, and Anne-Sophie Laloë, all in grades 5 to 7 — presented to the city’s Recreation Commission and Mayor Ron Kim last week.
The commission did not act on the proposal and will assess next steps, including a review of available land in the city.
“It’s just an idea at this point,” Laloë said in a recent interview. “We’re gathering letters of support from the community from different stakeholders.”
Two local organizations are already supportive of the idea.
Saratoga Regional YMCA CEO Scott Clark said in his letter to the commission that “this addition to the Saratoga Springs parks system will provide a unique and valuable asset to the community.”
Benj Gleeksman and Belinda Colon of On Deck Saratoga said in a joint letter: “This Bike Park will be the first dedicated bike recreation facility in Saratoga Springs and will enrich the lives of all the kids and families who live in and visit Saratoga Springs.”
Laloë said Shredders’ growth has been incredible since June 2020, three months into the global pandemic.
“We advertised on Facebook that we’re doing girls’ drills mountain biking in the Spa Park every Thursday at the time,” she said. “Twenty girls showed up, and then every week it basically doubled. Luckily as we doubled in number of kids, we also increased the number of female mentors that were able to volunteer with us and help lead the group.”
The growth in volunteer adult leaders allows for small groups to ride in the woods during the fall and spring, Laloë said.
“That’s another reason why we want to advocate for more space for kids to be riding in Saratoga Springs,” she said. “But mainly, it’s to also just remove as many socioeconomic and transportation barriers for kids in the downtown area that can’t necessarily get to trails where we all ride.”
Laloë said she’s aware that the organization’s growth was due in part to kids needing something to do during the pandemic. She said she assumed there would be a natural attrition of numbers once traditional sports programs resumed.
To the contrary, the group continues to grow.
“But I think the combination of parents looking for activities for their kids, but also the fact that we’ve never really had a mountain bike club in the area. It’s a very new kind of idea to parents, and I think our demographic suits itself well for those sorts of unique opportunities for kids.”
The group’s receipt of donations allows it to give bikes to children in need. For instance, Shredders donated about 20 bicycles to the Schenectady Boys & Girls Club during an outreach program in November. It also offered a free mountain bike skills clinic for the organization.
Laloë said she founded the organization in 2018 with about a dozen girls who would meet Fridays in parks, including her two daughters Zoe, now 9, and Anne-Sophie, 12.
Dr. Ali Doyle, a mentor and board member, also has two daughters in the program, Ruth, 6, and Havah, 11.
“I feel very fortunate to be a part of it,” said Doyle, an OB-GYN doctor who grew up in Nebraska, moved to the city eight years ago, and was introduced to mountain biking by her older daughter.
“Like many other children, we were looking for a way to be physically active and socially engaged with other kids her age and the pandemic was really isolating especially for the young ones,” Doyle said.
The parent called the program life-changing for her daughters.
“My oldest was struggling, just like so many other young kids during the height of the pandemic. This really gave her this beautiful and amazing outlet to be around other kids in a safe way, and then through that opportunity and discovery, we have found a new sport that both of my girls genuinely love.”
Shredders opens spring registration Feb. 14. Visit the website at www.saratogashredders.com. It will offer programs for kids pre-kindergarten through grade 12 in the spring. There will be programs in Saratoga Springs, Queensbury and in the Albany area.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.