MKE Urban Trail Connections seeks to ride mountain bikes throughout Milwaukee

FRANKLIN, Wis (CBS 58) -- On Sunday, June 19, a group of mountain bike riders celebrated how they might enjoy any weekend day: by pedaling up and plunging down trails throughout Milwaukee. 

MKE Urban Trail Connections, an open group of riders that was formerly known as MKE BIPOC Mountain Bikers, "works to educate, build interest and get more Milwaukeeans in the BIPOC community on mountain bikes across the city, county, and state."

Two members of MKE Urban Trail Connections are Ken Cole and Sydney Shimko.

"We're coaches, we're parents, we're folks that are trying to grow this sport," says Cole. 

Both have children on the Shorewood High School Mountain Bike Team.

"Mountain biking is something that, unlike possibly other school sports or activities, entire families can ride together," said Shimko.

Sydney Shimko is a co-head coach for the Shorewood Mountain Bike Team. She says she expects to have about 100 Shorewood kids on the school team this year.

"I've been a mountain biking coach for 20+ years and I've seen hundreds of people discover the joy that is mountain biking," said Shimko. 

MKE Urban Trail Connections schedules group rides and generates interest through social media to welcome new riders to get out on trails, including people who may not have initially envisioned themselves as mountain bikers. 

"Mountain biking, at least in Milwaukee, is something that's not that diverse. For instance, my daughter races and I race and we're usually one of only a few [BIPOC individuals] racing. I'd like to see more of folks like me out there because the experience of mountain biking is really life-changing." 

Cole says that while mountain biking trails may not currently see widespread diversity, there is abundant precedent for African American mountain bikers.

"In the late 1800's an all-Black regiment known as the Buffalo Soldiers were scouts on mountain bikes - long before "mountain biking" existed. So in hindsight it's really not that unique, but it's something we're trying to reconnect with today," said Cole. 

"Being out in the woods like this, enjoying nature and enjoying the community of your friends...I see no reason why we shouldn't welcome that experience for everyone," said Shimko.

MKE Urban Trail Connections also endeavors "to make Milwaukee the center for urban (and urban adjacent) mountain biking in the Midwest.

"Considering the multitude of trail networks offering a variety of skill-level experiences in the greater Milwaukee region, including the Northern and Southern Kettle Moraine, Minooka Park, Glacial Blue Hills, Pleasant Valley, Wauwatosa trails - the region is off to an excellent start. 

There is one area that is bereft of a mountain biking trail network, and that is central Milwaukee, and this is where the group seeks to incorporate trails for people from Milwaukee and beyond to ride through wild landscapes.

"One of our goals is to have a trail system built on the Northside," said Cole. 

"Our motto has become 'If you build it they will come,' and if we build a trail system people will ride it," said Cole. "If it's a trail system that folks can ride their bike to off of the Oak Leaf Trail, for example, we're confident that trail will be a destination spot for Southeastern Wisconsin." 

The group says they're exploring the potential for mountain bike trails to one day weave through Havenwoods State Forest, which contains 237 acres between Mill Rd., Silver Spring Dr., Sherman Blvd. and a U.S. Army recruiting base.

"It's accessible and it's gorgeous," says Cole. 

"Another place where we have some momentum is potentially under the Marquette Interchange," said Shimko. "That is exciting and would be really accessible for a lot of people." 

Plenty of underpasses have become homes for sports activities, one of the first and best-known being Burnside Skatepark in Portland, Oregon. The area evolved from being a sketchy, poorly lit underpass into a DIY skatepark where people fostered community. Today, it has become an accepted destination for locals and skateboarders from all over the world to visit, skate and envision parks in their own cities.

"In the same way that you can walk over to your local park or your local basketball court, we hope for everyone to have a chance to go and ride that easily within any community - certainly in the city," said Shimko.

For now, on this particular Sunday, June 19, 2022, the group enjoys shredding trails in Franklin on Milwaukee County's southern border. Because someone built it - and they did come. 

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