Cycling group picks McDaniel as location for June summit

Environmental issues, riding focus of meeting


March 16, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

As many as 450 cyclists will bring their mountain bikes and environmental issues to Carroll County in June.

The International Mountain Bicycling Association, which has 32,000 members worldwide, has chosen McDaniel College in Westminster for its 2004 IMBA Mountain Bike Advocacy Summit.

"This was a real coup to get this group here," said Barbara Beverungen, county director of tourism. "They are international and will be bringing people from all over the country and the world."

The conference is set for June 4-8 at McDaniel College, with many participants staying in college housing and nearby hotels.

"They were looking for a location where they could get out and ride and a facility where they could hold their conference," said Mary Jo Colbert, McDaniel's director of conference services. "In a city, it would be difficult to maneuver the streets with their bikes."

The event will include workshops and seminars with conservationists, trail managers and cycling enthusiasts, and time for trail riding and socializing.

"We will be building a constituency for trail riding and training attendees on strategies for improving trails in their communities," said Pete Webber, membership and community director for the organization, which is based in Boulder, Colo. "This conference will have average bikers who want to make a difference as well as professional land and trail managers. It is a real mix of people with common goals. We plan to share ideas and take them back to our own communities."

Organizers have reserved the fourth day for a trip to Washington, where they plan to lobby Congress.

"We will be lobbying for more access to existing trails for mountain biking and the creation of new trails for all users," Webber said. "We have a great story to tell about the importance of recreational trails to our society."

The nonprofit association encourages low-impact riding, volunteer trail work, cooperation among groups who use the trails and innovative trail management, according to its Web site. Through its many volunteers, IMBA helps maintain trails for bikers, hikers and equestrians.

Since its founding in 1988, IMBA and its affiliated clubs have spent more than $4 million keeping trails open for mountain bikers. The organization has also donated more than 1 million volunteer hours maintaining trails and built more than 5,000 miles of new trails, according to the Web site.

During its four-day stay in Westminster, the group plans intensive work on environmental issues. But the association has built in time "to blow off steam and go riding," Webber said. "No reason not to enjoy the reason why we are doing all this work."

Cyclists will ride the trails at Hashawha Environmental Center in Westminster and at two parks in Frederick County.

"We chose McDaniel and Maryland for the proximity to D.C.," Webber said. "But we will not be so close to a city that there is not good mountain biking nearby."

Jenn Dice, the association's government affairs director, said, "We are excited to bring the attention of our national organization to such a beautiful area."

Trail riding is gaining popularity, Webber said. Besides its individual members, IMBA has more than 450 bicycle clubs, 130 corporate partners and more than 100 bicycle retailers.

"Outdoor recreation is important for health," Webber said. "With the recent news on the impact of obesity, it has become a really hot topic. Exercise is something our country needs for sure."

Poor diet and lack of physical activity will soon surpass smoking as the leading cause of premature death among Americans, according to a study released last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Together, the two factors caused 400,000 premature deaths in 2000, the study found, almost 17 percent of all deaths.

"Mountain biking is important to health and to the environment," Webber said. "It gets people out and helps them develop a sense of stewardship for the land."

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