A roundabout way to learn history

BikeAbout event takes riders along a path of Columbia's past

May 04, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

The first time Jakob Wood rode his bike in the Columbia Association's annual BikeAbout, he was 5 years old and had just learned to balance without training wheels.

"We didn't think he would make it," his father, Geoff Wood, recalled. "But he did the whole thing."

Since then, father and son have pedaled in the BikeAbout every year, and they're planning to do it again tomorrow. "It's partially tradition," Geoff said. "But it's also a great way to learn about the local area."

The rides, he said, have taught Jakob, now 12, about Columbia's architecture and history. "You kind of sneak the learning in," said Geoff. The annual ride, between 10 and 15 miles long, highlights Columbia's extensive web of bike paths while providing information about local landmarks.

This year, the 11-mile route will celebrate Columbia's 40th anniversary by focusing on the history of the planned community, particularly on the first village center, Wilde Lake. The event will start with a short ceremony at 9 a.m., though cyclists can start any time before 10 a.m..

"What I like about it this year is, it really focuses on the history of Columbia, which people are really interested in, with the talk of the birthday," said Barbara Kellner, manager of the Columbia Archives. "There are two kinds of people who do the ride: those who stop and eat up the history and those who just like to go for a ride. I think this year we give something to both groups."

This year's circuit will start at Symphony Woods, head to the lakefront, then meander among the villages of Wilde Lake, Harper's Choice and Hickory Ridge before returning to Symphony Woods. Nearly the entire ride is on bike paths, though there are some street connections.

Twenty-four poster boards highlighting the area's history will be set up along the route. The laminated boards contain photographs of landmarks such as the lakefront fountain under construction, memos from James Rouse with handwritten comments in the margins and other historic materials.

Two boards are covered with trivia questions. Participants can lift the flaps to find the answers to questions on topics such as Columbia's population in its early years (Hint: it grew quickly).

The signs will be taken down about 1:30 p.m., said Kellner, who worked with Sean Harbaugh, project leader for open space maintenance for the Columbia Association, to organize the event.

"She comes up with the spots, and I help her come up with the route," Harbaugh said.

This year marks the first time the association has created a children's pamphlet, which includes questions for them to answer.

Last year, about 300 people participated, Kellner said. But riders say it doesn't get crowded because people start at different times and go at their own pace. Harbaugh noted that the ride, though suitable for all skill levels, has some hills, as it does every year. "That's just the nature of our pathways," he said.

Columbia has almost 100 miles of pathways that connect the community's village centers and playgrounds, he said.

Geoff Wood, 46, said he grew up in Wilde Lake and is raising his own there. Despite bad knees and a back injury that required fusion surgery, he still enjoys the bike paths and rides as often as he can, he said.

"It's certainly a great aspect of Columbia," he said.

Linda Press, 64, said she moved to Columbia 35 years ago partly because of the open space and bike paths. "We liked the whole idea of the natural landscape that was left here," she said. "It wasn't like your typical suburban sprawl."

Living near bike paths instilled a love of cycling in both her sons, she said. In nice weather, she rides several times a week, picking up the path near her home and taking it to Lake Elkhorn and back.

Press, who lives in Oakland Mills, tries to ride the BikeAbout each year with her husband, Philip, her son Michael and Michael's 8-year-old son, Harrison. Michael and Harrison drive up from North Potomac each year to ride, she said.

"It's a nice family activity," said Press. "We all love to bike ride. We love the history that's provided at all the stops. ... To us, it's the essence of what Columbia is about, to have families outside enjoying the community. We just love it."

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