Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cyclists Raise Money to Protect Open Spaces

By Kate Kirby
Gordon College News Service
August 4, 2010
(This story appeared in the Boston Globe, North print section, August 26.)

When the alarm sounds at 4:30 a.m., former Iron Man World Championship finisher Joe Walsmith gears up to train for a new kind of challenge. On Saturday, August 28th Walsmith will join other elite athletes and dedicated conservationists in the second annual Ride for Green, a rugged cycling event to protect the natural landscape of Massachusetts.

Walsmith, 38, hatched the idea for the Ride in 2007 while cycling 100+ miles along the South Shore and weaving west through cranberry country into farmland once inhabited by his great grandparents. Originally from Southern California, Walsmith said he wanted to protect Massachusetts from the kind of development he saw on the West Coast.

“I absolutely love it out here and I have a deep appreciation for all of the green space because I’ve seen the opposite happen in California,” said Walsmith, a current resident of Scituate, MA, who works at LEK Consulting, a life science biotech company in Boston. “Seeing what an excess in development does to the landscape is hard to come to terms with.”

So in 2008, Walsmith approached the Trustees of Reservations, a Massachusetts based land conservation organization, who welcomed his idea and he’s been volunteering with the event since.

To participate in the Ride for Green, each cyclist must raise a minimum of $400, all of which goes directly into the land acquisition fund, said Vassar Pierce, the Annual Giving Coordinator for the Trustees of Reservations. The fund is used to purchase and preserve properties of scenic, historic and ecological value across Massachusetts. The Trustees currently manage nearly 25,000 acres of land—places like Crane Beach in Ipswich and World’s End in Hingham.  

With 32 registrants ages 29 to 69 years old, Pierce said he hopes the event continues to grow annually. Of last year’s total 19 riders—who raised $24,000—14 are back despite enduring a torrential downpour during the first Ride.  

One such rider is thirty-something year old Betsy Townsend of Ipswich, MA, who works as an investment analytics consultant. Having participated in college athletics, Townsend saw the ride as an opportunity to train for a personal goal and further the mission of the Trustees.

“It was fun and beautiful—quintessential New England, rolling hills and country roads with people waving and cheering you on,” Townsend said of last year’s ride. “It’s a social opportunity as well. There is an incredible network on the North Shore of people who love to ride.”

A fellow rider and Cultural Resources Program Manager for the Trustees, Mark Wilson, 45, will also be tackling the Ride for the second year in a row. A resident of South Yarmouth, MA, Wilson’s concern for preserving natural spaces from development echoes Walsmith’s.

“I grew up on Nantucket Island learning how to fish, sail, and swim,” said Wilson. “We had access to huge open space, clean air and water, trees . . . things that can be taken for granted.” 

Wilson said that though local development has slowed down because of the economy, it’s important to be proactive and find a balance between people needing a place to live and preserving the environment.

This year’s riders have the option of an 80 or 130-mile route. The longer track starts at 6:15 a.m. Saturday, August 28 at the Weir River Farm in Hingham, MA, and passes through the second starting location at Moose Hill Farm in Sharon, MA.

The Ride finishes at Appleton Farm in Ipswich where participants and their families will be treated to a barbeque, live music and cow milking demonstrations.

“We can all do better for the environment,” said Wilson. “We are losing thousands of acres and there is only so much land out there.” 

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