Pend Oreille Pedalers paving the way for cyclist enthusiasts of all ages
By Jillian Chandler
What began in the mid-2000s with the purpose of providing local cyclists fun and engaging opportunities in the way of social rides on area trails–such as Gold Hill, Mineral Point, and further afield around Priest Lake and in the wild mountains of the Idaho Panhandle–Pend Oreille Pedalers (POP) has evolved over the years to encompass so much more.
“Starting in 2007, the focus began to turn to developing new trails closer to Sandpoint,” shares Jason Welker, POP’s executive director. “While North Idaho is blessed with hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of dirt trails, almost all of it lies out of reach of the pedal-powered recreationalist.”
That same year, a local family put their 120-acre property, known as Sherwood Forest, into a permanent conservation easement and invited POP into the woods to begin building non-motorized trails. “Over the next several years, the seeds of what has since grown into the much more expansive Syringa Trail System were planted by those dedicated volunteers of what you could call ‘POP 1.0,’” smiles Jason.
Today, the Syringa System includes two additional properties—Pine Street Woods (PSW) and VTT—which combined with Sherwood Forest provide local trail users with more than 16 miles of dedicated biking and hiking trails across 400 acres of community forest. POP built or assisted in the construction of every foot of trail in that system and continues to build and maintain trails in VTT and PSW today.
Jason first joined POP as a member about a decade ago, while he was still teaching in international schools and spending summers in his house on Schweitzer. He moved to Sandpoint full time in 2017. “As a mountain biker and trail lover, POP was an easy community to slide into,” Jason recalls. “In 2020, after serving on the board for a year, I signed on as the club’s first executive director—a role in which I organize all club activities, programs, projects and events.”
Since then, membership has grown from less than 200 to nearly 800! During this time, they’ve launched youth programs and built over 15 miles of new trails. POP also supports or hosts three different bike races each year, leads over 30 weekly group rides, approximately a dozen road rides, and 30-plus volunteer trail work parties each year. “In addition, my grant writing work has brought in over $100,000 to fund new trail development in the Syringa and Lower Basin trail systems since 2019,” says Jason.
POP’s after-school and summer programs serve youth ages 7 through 12; the only prerequisite is that your child be able to ride a bike. “Starting this year, you don’t even have to own a bike to participate, because POP is offering 15 bike grants and scholarships throughout the year,” shares Jason. “Through a community fundraising effort last summer, we raised over $9,000 to purchase high-end Trek mountain bikes, which we will give to five local kids along with scholarships to one of our programs during each session: spring, summer and fall.” Registration for the spring program will open early April, and for those interested in receiving a scholarship and bike grant, there will be an application process.
POP keeps those in the cycling community connected throughout the year in several ways. Club meetings kick off on the second Wednesday in April (and continue through October) at 5:30pm at Matchwood Brewing. Anyone who is interested in learning about the cycling and trail development scene in Sandpoint should attend. “Or, if you’re new to the area and want to meet some cool folks over beers, there’s no better place to be than a monthly POP meeting,” smiles Jason. They offer weekly group rides and trail work parties. They are also very active on Instagram and Facebook, and send out weekly newsletters to their members during the biking season.
Jason encourages those with a passion for bikes and trails to join Pend Oreille Pedalers. Membership starts at $25 and includes POP activities, meetings, opportunity to enroll their kids in the after-school and summer programs, “and earn ‘trail karma’ by helping support the local trails,” he affirms.