CUMBERLAND — Plans are underway to bring a new sports team to Allegany County.
Mandela Echefu, president of Wheelzup Adventures in Cumberland, at a recent mayor and City Council meeting talked of plans to start a team affiliated with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
NICA is a nonprofit that promotes youth mountain biking programs in the United States.
The group offers a non-mainstream sport for middle and high school students to become advocates for outdoor recreation, Echefu told the Cumberland Times-News this week.
“It’s not all just achievement based,” he said of teamwork that uses a roughly three-mile race course and focuses on completion times.
“Parents can actually ride alongside,” Echefu said.
Unlike flat, straight trail riding, mountain cycling includes more challenges and requires a bike with components including a suspension system.
“There is a level of skill that is required that we can teach,” Echefu said. “It’s just an overall fun experience.”
Participants in the sport gain physical endurance as well as social skills, he said.
Echefu, a former medical professional, opened Wheelzup Adventures downtown in 2021, and took over the Canal Place bike shop this year.
As a business owner, he said an Allegany County cycling league would further enhance the community’s growing opportunities and potential for economic success.
“It’s inevitable that this area is going to grow exponentially,” Echefu said and added he’s pleased to have started his business “on the ground floor to a better tomorrow.”
He will host a meeting to discuss plans for the team at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 29 at the Canal Place bike shop, 14 Howard St.
Jonathan Posner is co-founder and co-league director of the Maryland Interscholastic Cycling League in Catonsville.
The group organized in 2017.
“Participating with a NICA team has many straightforward benefits that kids can expect to get, such as more time spent outdoors and vigorous exercise, but there are numerous others that we have seen,” he said via email.
Parents of participants “often describe their kids as having more self-confidence and independence,” Posner said. “Kids learn skills like time management, and they learn about the importance of good nutrition and sleep habits.”
“Another thing we hear universally appreciated is the sense of community and belonging that exists in teams and in the league,” he said.
Posner cited “a growing list of unique benefits” kids in the league experienced.
“A couple examples are: Ruby who ‘graduated’ from her speech therapist after a season of participation due to the strengthening of her diaphragm, and Samir, who literally escaped the Taliban Afghanistan with his family and came out of his shell only after finding his place on a local team, all his equipment donated by the MICL community,” Posner said. “There are scores of stories like this.”
Teams bring people together from different backgrounds and foster a sense of community spirit, he said.
“They depend on volunteer involvement so they offer a great opportunity to get involved and contribute to a meaningful cause while doing something super fun, mountain biking,” Posner said.
Posner talked of “a strong stewardship component” of the program called Teen Trail Corps.
“Through that kids learn how to take care of, and advocate for, the places they recreate, developing an appreciation for natural resources,” he said.
“NICA is about so much more than mountain bike racing,” Posner said.
“NICA helps create connections for kids to continue cycling in college (and) helps create connections across states,” he said. “NICA is for grownups too — we invest a lot in our coaches and ask them to do the same.”
Self reflection and accountability as a coach and mentor are stressed, “and we provide loads of resources to that end,” Posner said.
“The focus is on creating meaningful connections with every student-athlete on the team,” he said and added his daughter Avery, 12, is in her second season of riding with their local team, the Bolts.
When Posner asked what she thought of the team, she responded, “All the kids have fun and it is a very supportive community.”
Aaron Hordubay is co-head coach and team director of Garrett County’s Composite Coyotes mountain bike team.
The team, roughly 6 years old, is among more than 25 across the state.
“Our team has given kids a safe place to learn to bike, helps them achieve their goals which could be just to gain more biking skills, ride more difficult trails, or be more competitive in the MICL race series,” Hordubay said.
“We strive to make it fun and inclusive,” he said. “There are no cuts, no tryouts. Riders gain confidence, skills, and friendships. They learn to give back to the community through volunteering in local trail systems. The kids are learning a lifelong sport.”
The community has been “very supportive” of the team, Hordubay said.
“Our original sponsors helped us get the program off the ground. In turn, we have given back to the community as much as we can,” he said and added the team members volunteer to help at area events and maintain local trails.
“Our positive relationship with the rangers at (Deep Creek lake State park) helped pave the way for MICL to hold the now annual Deep Creek Lake Adventure Ride,” Hordubay said. “This adventure ride brings hundreds of riders and their families to the trails and businesses of Western Maryland every fall.”
The biggest impact the Coyotes have had in the community has been working with the town of Oakland to build state-of-the-art mountain biking trails in Broadford Lake Park, he said.
“With the towns’ approval and the Coyotes volunteer power, three miles of beginner-friendly mountain biking trails have been constructed for everyone in the community to use,” Hordubay said.
He talked of being “absolutely thrilled” for a new Allegany County team.
“The next closest Maryland team to us is near Frederick, Hordubay said.
“The sport of mountain biking is about the adventure and experiences you have with friends, family and the outdoors,” he said. “We are excited to share those positive and powerful experiences with students and coaches from Allegany County.”
Echefu said Constitution Park could offer a workable spot for a league cycling trail.
“The elevation is not crazy,” he said and added trails could be built with spectators in mind.
Cumberland Councilman Rock Cioni said city officials support establishment of a mountain bike trail at Constitution Park.
“I believe that the park is a city gem and this administration has really advocated for the improvements that have already occurred there,” he said via email. “Addressing quality of life issues certainly means that our (parks and recreation department) receives adequate funding for as many activities and facilities as money allows.”
Cumberland Director of Parks and Recreation Ryan Mackey said he’s excited about the potential mountain biking trail project at Constitution Park.
“The course has the ability to use dead space at the park as well as connect points of interest without losing any attractions that are currently there,” he said via email and talked of “peak interest” in mountain biking in the area.
“The goal is to make an inclusive course so a variety of park goers can enjoy it,” Mackey said. “I do think that it is feasible to do and with good direction, planning, and teamwork it will be a great amenity to the park for many to enjoy.”
Lee Borror is a senior community development specialist for the city.
She’s also been mountain biking for several years.
“More avid involvement in the sport and Allegany Trails group has greatly improved my health and wellness,” Borror said via email. “The focus necessary to navigate trails on two wheels is an easy way to quiet a cluttered, busy mind. The experience can be as solitary or social as you choose.”
The local cycling league idea comes at an opportune moment for consideration in the design phase for the mayor and City Council’s Community Development Block Grant program and Constitution Park trails project, she said.
During development of the CDBG five-year planning process in 2019, the trail project was pursued “in earnest and supported by the desires of mayor and City Council to increase parks and recreation opportunities in Cumberland,” Borror said.
“The development of community teams would provide children with positive friendships and peer networks with similar interests employing another one of the protective factors described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent (adverse childhood experiences),” she said.
“Not only does trail development support community plans and reduce risk factors, but also the goals of the (CDBG) program CARES ACT funding recommendations to provide additional spaces for outdoor activity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Borror said.
While park trails are not designed specifically for economic reasons, “it is a beneficial piece of the community puzzle as homesteaders seek to live in areas that provide amenities of interest to them,” she said. “I would like to see more trails in Cumberland as space allows and more projects renovating and building additional trail systems throughout Allegany County.”
In addition to the potential for a NICA sanctioned race course at the Constitution Park, current plans provide for an inclusive and accessible nature immersion trail, Borror said.
“The Constitution Park trails project is in the bid/design phase now,” she said.
“There could be countless possibilities to increase trails, attractions and connections as suggested in the 2008 Cumberland Trails and Bikeway Master Plan,” Borror said. “There is not only a grass-roots community of mountain bikers and hikers to support outdoor recreation, but an increasing number of visitors, which research suggests provides great potential for impactful economic development while preserving and sustaining our beautiful natural resources.”