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Bainbridge Island Metro Park and Recreation District's outdoor program kicks into gear

Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park and Recreation District Outdoor Programs Coordinator Jeff Ozimek, Bainbridge Island Cycle Shop owner Tom Clune and Squeaky Wheels co-founder Gordon Black converge on the trail at Gazzam Lake.  - Connie Mears/Staff Photo
Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park and Recreation District Outdoor Programs Coordinator Jeff Ozimek, Bainbridge Island Cycle Shop owner Tom Clune and Squeaky Wheels co-founder Gordon Black converge on the trail at Gazzam Lake.
— image credit: Connie Mears/Staff Photo

Squeaky Wheels co-founder Gordon Black knows the Gazzam Lake trails like his own backyard. It’s not that he could write a book about all he knows about mountain biking, he actually has written one – “Mountain Biking Washington.”

With the leaves already starting to turn color, Black rode the trails Tuesday in preparation for the mountain biking skills clinic and bike trips he’ll be co-leading as part of Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park and Recreation District’s newest outdoor program.

Sharing the trail was Tom Clune, owner of Bainbridge Island Cycles, who’s logged a few miles of his own.

“It’s easier to smile when you’re mountain biking than when you’re on a commute,” said Clune, another of the program's instructors.

Confirming that fact was the irrepressible grin on the face of Jeff Ozimek, Outdoor Programs Coordinator for the Metro Park District. All in a day’s work for Ozimek, whose mission is to “build community by getting more folks active outdoors.”  Considering that the average American spends 90 percent of his or her time indoors, that’s an ambitious goal – but Ozimek is well-prepared for the challenge. With a degree in recreation administration, Ozimek has a particular genius for making fun accessible.

“It’s about breaking down barriers to participation,” he said between bites at Fork & Spoon in mid-August. The key, he said, is to match offerings with skill levels and provide low-risk entry points.

Not one to waste time recreating the wheel so to speak, Ozimek connected with Black, who already has invested a significant amount of time and energy exploring ways to grow a youth mountain biking club on the island. Seeing an opportunity to collaborate, Ozimek designed a fall program that starts with an introductory skills clinic, followed by a series of rides with an escalating level of challenge. From the 12-mile Green Mountain ride, to night rides through the Grand Forest, to the grueling 48-mile Iron Horse Challenge, the mountain bike program offers a guided entry into an adventurous sport.

“Any time you step out of your comfort zone, it’s an opportunity to grow as a person,” Ozimek said. Having worked for eight years in the field as an outdoors instructor, he’s adept at crafting opportunities for people to accept “challenge by choice.”

For some, “catching air” on a mountain bike is their kind of thrill. For others, catching air might mean through a valve on a scuba tank. Others might picture breathing it in at alpine lakes on the peninsula. If so, you’ll want to sign up for the Silver Lakes backpacking trip. Yes, backpacking trip.

Bainbridge resident Joanna Blackburn was interested in backpacking but it had been a long time since she’d put on a pack.

“At the pre-trip meeting the guide asked how long it had been,” Blackburn said on the phone.

“When you have to put a number to it, I realized it had been 20-plus years.”

She started out with the High Tut trip at Mount Rainier and signed on for the Ozette triangle after that.

“The programs are designed to bring people along from where they are to where they want to be,” she said. “Ranger [Sciacca, who guides the backpack trips] is very patient.”

For Blackburn, joining a pre-planned trip took all the risk out of it.

“One nice thing is that Jeff is creating a bank of gear and encouraging people to try new things,” she said. "Gear has improved a lot in the last 20 years.”

Providing gear is just one more way to eliminate obstacles to participation, Ozimek said. With the introductory courses, you can try your hand (and legs) at scuba diving, backpacking, sailing, star-gazing, bird watching, or wine harvesting without spending a bundle on equipment. If it turns out fly fishing is not your cup of gatorade, you’re not out for the cost of a rod, reel and creel. For $39 you can don a scuba mask and tank and plunge into the deep end at the Aquatic Center.

In addition, the classes offer access to people with varying degrees of expertise and interest in the activity. You can take copious notes from the course leader, or pair up with a friend after class for a post-class discussion.

For Ozimek, developing community around shared activity is key.

“Every single program we run starts with an ice breaker,” he said. “Soon, you start to see the same faces. You start to know each other.”

Blackburn said the offerings are family friendly, often multi-generational and inclusive.

The interests targeted are varied and many overlap. Those who love the water can paddle a kayak on a moonlight excursion or hoist the sails on the historic schooner Adventuress in October. Those who’d rather be in the water rather than on it, can take a skin diving class at the Aquatic Center.

The newest and some of the most popular courses have been part of the “Bounty of the Land” series taught by Langdon Cook and Kathryn Lafond. The classes teach skills such as foraging, shellfish harvesting and plant medicines. Foodies attracted to those outings also might enjoy another new line of offerings: wine making.

“Remember the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode where she’s crushing the grapes?” Ozimek asked. That’s just the beginning, apparently. Local winemaker Alphonse de Kierk and sommelier David Morris have a lot of ‘splainin to do – about wine chemistry, fermentation, aging vessels and sugar content. The afternoon will end with a classic wine tasting.

For more information about the variety of offerings in the Outdoor Program, visit www.biparks.org or peruse the new fall 2011 catalog that was mailed to island residents in August.

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