A group of about 10 cyclists, all employees of the National Conservation Training Center, gathered in the parking lot of the Bavarian Inn on Tuesday, April 20, to participate in the first annual NCTC Bike to Work Day.
Shepherdstown resident and town Planning Commissioner Karene Motivans organized the event, part of a week-long series of NCTC activities designed to coincide with Earth Day, which was yesterday. Motivans says many people react with surprise upon learning that she and a small number of other local NCTC employees regularly bike to work.
Their most common question is always "isn't that dangerous?" says Motivans, laughing. She says that to a novice biker, the prospect of cycling on the narrow strip of shoulder available alongside Shepherd Grade Road, which leads to the NCTC campus, can be intimidating. But she remarks that more people are taking to two-wheels of late, and drivers are slowly learning how to share the road.
Eric Kelchin, wearing yellow at right, reads the rules of the road to a group of his fellow National Conservation Training Center employees as they prepare to commute to work on April 20.
Photo by Michael Theis/Chronicle
"You see a lot of bikers out on Shepherd Grade these days", says Motivans. "And there are actually far fewer cars on the road than you'd expect, if you're just a driver."
The ride itself is surprisingly easy. I know because I rode along on my 1998 steel-framed road bike (the kind with skinny tires). The route takes you over four miles of rolling hills and past open pastures with grazing foals. On a bicycle, you are not merely traveling through the country, so much as traveling in the country. One way, from downtown Shepherdstown, should take an average rider about 20 minutes.
Many of the participants had rarely biked to NCTC before, and some of them were inexperienced road riders. Before their departure from the Bavarian Inn parking lot, NCTC employee and bicyclist Eric Kelchlin read some simple road rules, including how to alert other riders of vehicular hazards approaching the peleton. If a car was approaching the bikers from behind, the first biker to notice should yell "car behind!" All other riders are tasked with passing the information up to the head of the pack.
About 20 minutes after starting out, the riders cruised through the entrance to the NCTC campus and glided up to bicycle racks near the office's entrances. Coffee and refreshments from the in-house coffee shop would be available to the ever-so-slightly strained riders, as would be a hot shower, courtesy of NCTC's in house locker room, where riders can exchange their sweaty garb for more professional outfits.
These kinds of cyclist friendly workplace amenities, the bicycle racks, the showers and the in house snack bar, stand in stark contrast to the poor state of the Shepherdstown area bicycle infrastructure, which is marked by aborted trails to nowhere, and narrow, rocky shoulders littered with debris.
Things are looking up for Shepherdstown's utility cycling community, as the Jefferson County Commission and the local business community, through the Trail Towns initiative, begins to examine long term plans to link all the area bicycle networks, including the Charles Town to Martinsburg bicycle network which will run unbroken along the new W.Va. 9. Locally, the County Commission will soon begin constructing a bicycle lane connecting municipal Shepherdstown to Morgan's Grove Park, off of W.Va. 480.
-Update 5:50 p.m. Typographical edit