RICHMOND — Group activities have been tough to organize lately for the members of Boy Scout Troop 1 in Richmond.
Last fall, the threat of eastern equine encephalitis kept them indoors after dark, and just as the weather started to warm up in the spring, COVID-19 shut down Camp Yawgoog and prevented the Scouts from getting together.
When statewide restrictions began to ease, assistant Scoutmaster Frank Puglia and troop leaders John Jacques and David Bacon decided that mountain biking could provide a safe way for Scouts to enjoy the outdoors while remaining socially distanced. Puglia, who was already a mountain-bike rider, began exploring different trails in June.
“The adult leaders started riding trails to assess where we’d be able to take the Scouts,” he said. “We knew that bike riding was going to be something that was very easy to meet whatever requirements or social distancing had come down, so the leaders got together informally, just to ride trails, and as soon as we were released to have the face-to-face meetings, we started [riding] with the Scouts.”
In a happy coincidence, the troop discovered an extensive trail network right in their own backyard.
“When we looked at the map of the Carolina trails, all it really shows is the North-South trail running straight through, and there’s not a whole lot to see on that trail. It would be fairly boring to ride more than once,” Puglia said. “But once we started exploring through there, we found a few more trails, and then all through the summer, we started exploring more and more of them with the Scouts.”
The Scouts used GPS to digitally map the trails, most of which they didn’t even know existed.
“We mapped twenty,” Puglia said. “They were there. We did not blaze any new trails. Those trails were there, but we were able to map them so that people could actually plan and do something with them.”
A group of 15 Scouts participated in the summer program, with five Scouts from Viking Patrol attending every weekly ride to earn their mountain-biking merit badges. In addition to logging more than 1,000 miles, the Scouts did trail maintenance and clean-up. They also learned how to repair and maintain their bikes.
“If they had a problem with their bike, we would go ahead and fix that for them, but as we did all different rides they had training on bike repair,” Puglia said. “Now, if they have a problem, they’ll fix it.”
Many of the Scouts had little or no mountain-biking experience, but they quickly got into shape. The first ride was a flat five miles, along the North-South trail.
“The kids were in awful shape cardio-wise, just because school had been shut, sports were down,” Puglia said. “They didn’t have the skill to go over all the bumps and logs and rocks and they didn’t really have the cardio. Week after week they got in better shape and we kept bringing them on more and more challenging trails.”
As their skills and stamina improved, the Scouts became bored with the North-South trail and started enjoying weaving through the trees and climbing hills.
“They took to it, but they weren’t really in shape or capable to do real mountain-biking like they are now,” Puglia said
The Carolina trails ended up being a good fit for those Scouts who had no previous mountain-biking experience.
“This is a great opportunity where there’s some real mountain biking, but if you’ve got Scouts of different ability, you can do one set of trails, different rides, more complex trails, so you really have everything,” Puglia said.
All the Carolina trails, which comprise 2,300 acres, can be viewed on the website www.trailforks.com.