Friends of Big Marsh hosted the first Big Marsh Bike Ambassador program at Trumbull Park this Summer through a partnership with After School Matters. This program introduced fifteen teens to Big Marsh Park and bicycle commuting on the Southeast Side. From learning how to ride as a group, to visiting new community resources, and learning the importance of teamwork, the teens had an impactful summer.
Friends of Big Marsh, Project Coordinator, Chental Handy, was able to interview and assemble the team of young people, which included nine residents of South Deering, and was made up of 7 young women and 8 young men. The teens worked in groups to map their community, and learn about route planning and bike safety.
Civic engagement and an understanding of history was stressed with visits to the A Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, and a special visit with 10th Ward Alderwoman, Sue Sadlowski Garza's office. Teens had the chance to talk about potential problems that they may have been facing in their community with the 10th Ward Chief of Staff, and a the Pullman Porter Museum they met with teens participating in a ONE Summer Chicago program. At Steelworker's Park, the class was able to scale the rock-climbing features which have been installed on the ore wall of US Steel's Blast Furnace.
Aside from Civic Engagement, one theme of the Summer was proximity. Trumbull Park is less than a mile from Big Marsh, although a safe cycling route is about 4 miles each way. The teens were excited to find how liberating a bike can be. Communities and resources can seem disconnected, due to man-made barriers, but by riding as a group, they can be accessed safely and quickly.
Reflecting on the Summer, Chental said "Being at the ripe age of 14-18 I feel as though teens often bring much more than just themselves to work. A challenge I faced as an instructor was to ensure that our classroom and time together was a safe place; that it was okay to feel however they felt as long as they dealt with it in a positive manner." On the street, Chental kept the group together, "We always rode as slow as the slowest rider and if someone had to stop, we all stopped as a group."
"The Big Marsh Bike Ambassador program has been beneficial for many reasons." Said ambassador, Aitana Gonzales. "It has helped me know more about places to go in my community. Big Marsh Park is amazing. There are trails that you can either walk or ride bikes on, which is amazing if you love nature. The Bike Ambassador Program for Big Marsh is an amazing opportunity to go out more and have fun doing so. At Big Marsh, you don't even ride on streets, unless you're riding your bike there. The Big Marsh Bike Ambassador program was really beneficial and has brought a lot of people to Big Marsh and have fun riding bikes."
Another patricipant, Rachel White, added " For a community like Trumbull to have nothing but a negative look, the Big Marsh Bike Ambassador program brought fun and positivity to the neighborhood"
Friends of Big Marsh is excited to continue to build opportunities for area residents to bike to all the amenities of the Southeast Side. The Calumet Region is filled with opportunities to engage with our history and enjoy eco-recreation. It is an honor to share this with the youth of the community.