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Whatcom County’s Bike to Work and School Day will be all-volunteer event in 2015

Bicyclist Seth Crawford is greeted by Lindsey Gerhard, marketing manager for Pickford Film Center, and volunteers Mikayla Raley, Candace Johnson and Diane Blake at Pickford's celebration station for the 17th Annual Bike to Work and School Day, Friday, May 16, 2014 on Bill McDonald Pkwy. Crawford rode from Alabama Hill to Western Washington University for the 17th Annual Bike to Work and School Day. "I am just biking today and being a participant," Crawford said.
Bicyclist Seth Crawford is greeted by Lindsey Gerhard, marketing manager for Pickford Film Center, and volunteers Mikayla Raley, Candace Johnson and Diane Blake at Pickford's celebration station for the 17th Annual Bike to Work and School Day, Friday, May 16, 2014 on Bill McDonald Pkwy. Crawford rode from Alabama Hill to Western Washington University for the 17th Annual Bike to Work and School Day. "I am just biking today and being a participant," Crawford said. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

The annual Bike to Work and School Day will return to its roots as an all-volunteer effort in 2015.

Volunteers started the event in 1998 and ran it until the Whatcom Council of Governments took over the organizing in 2006.

But dwindling funding for the council’s Whatcom Smart Trips program has led to the decision to step away from its role as lead organizer of the popular event, which encourages adults and schoolchildren to try bicycle commuting for a day in May.

“We don’t have the time to do it the way we used to do it,” said Susan Horst, director of Mobility Programs for Whatcom Council of Governments.

Horst added: “It has been more difficult for us to find federal and state funding for Smart Trips, and that has been where the lion’s share of our funding has come from since the start of the program. This has forced us to get more of our funding from a local source, and this is funding that is also used for other local purposes.”

The Smart Trips budget this year was 30 percent smaller than it had been in previous years, according to Horst, and next year’s budget will be 30 percent smaller than this year’s.

“That’s a pretty big difference,” Horst said.

With less money, the council is focusing on its programs that educate elementary and middle-school students about bicycling and otherwise getting around town without using a car, as well as a similar program for adults that partners with employers.

It now takes about two months to coordinate Bike to Work and School Day.

The number of participants has grown during the event’s 17 years, reaching a little more than 9,000 children and adults this year and last.

“We think that popularity will give it momentum and carry it forward,” Horst said.

That seems to be happening.

For example, the Pickford Film Center has said it will organize a block party for the morning of Bike to Work and School Day, according to the council’s Mary Anderson, who has organized the event for the past five years.

Anderson and Horst were upbeat about the change, saying it will open the way for new approaches.

“We’re really hopeful. We think there are a lot of with-it people out there that love this event,” Horst said. “They know what they’re doing, they have the motivation. We think it could really work, this new approach.”

For her part, Anderson thanked the many volunteers and businesses that have participated over the years, including manning the celebration stations where participants stopped in, saying they helped make the event possible.

That includes at least 200 volunteers for this year’s event, as well as the 26 schools that participated countywide and the more than 50 businesses that donated food and prizes.

“It’s thanks to the community and all those volunteers who said ‘of course I’ll do a station at 6 a.m.’ That enthusiasm remains and it will carry forward. It will just look a little different,” said Anderson, transportation planner with Whatcom Council of Governments.

Next year’s Bike to Work and School Day will be on Friday, May 15.

Although the council no longer will be organizing the event, it still will have a role. That will include posting the locations of celebration station on its website, BikeToWorkandSchoolDay.org, being hosted by others, as well as hosting a celebration station itself. It also will print posters and otherwise advertise the event on WhatcomSmartTrips.org, Facebook and local media.

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