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River Ratz director tells Rotary why we should be cycling

  • Tom Welge, left, was the guest speaker March 13 at the Chester Rotary Club. He is pictured with Rotary President Jeremy Walker.

    Tom Welge, left, was the guest speaker March 13 at the Chester Rotary Club. He is pictured with Rotary President Jeremy Walker.
    Gwendy Garner photo

 
By Gwendy Garner
Contributing writer
updated: 3/24/2019 5:06 PM

Connecting kids with bicycles and turning that partnership into a healthy, lifelong activity is the goal of the River Ratz Cycling Group, director Tom Welge told the Chester Rotary Club at its March 13 meeting.

Welge gave the group a brief history of the 501(c) 3 charity group, which started in 2014 as a part of the national Trips For Kids organization. Welge, who organized the local group and serves as the director, said studies show kids who spend time in nature become happier adults.

This cycling group, which is generally for kids from second to eighth grade, offers a great option to inactivity like constant screen time. Welge said. Cycling promotes childhood health and lifelong activity, he added.

The kids enjoy about six free mountain bike trail rides a year throughout southern Illinois. This bike season is expected to begin in about six to eight weeks, when the weather is conducive.

River Ratz Cycling's mission is to provide transformative cycling experiences through a network of chapters that promote health, recreational lifestyles, environmental awareness and personal empowerment for young people of all communities, especially those most in need.

River Ratz Cycling works with Chester's COPS program to provide all fifth grade students in Chester with a free, quality bike helmet. They also receive "safe bike" training, as well as free bike tune up clinics with a professional bike mechanic for the public.

More than 500 kids have participated in the River Ratz cycling program, with over 600 volunteer hours. Background checks are done on all volunteers, Welge said. The organization's list of goals includes growing a larger volunteer base, fundraising activities and outreach to other communities in order to partner with other organizations.

Welge is also involved with the St. Nicholas Brewing Company Cycling Club, which has hosted four Cannonball Rides in Illinois and Missouri over the past 18 months, with over 250 riders in these events. He, along with members of the St. Nicholas team, plan to participate in a 50 to 100 mile ride in Stillwater, OK in June.