How the Winona Lake Trail Fest brings its community together to support trails

The Winona Lake Trails are some of the most reputable off-road trail systems in Northern Indiana. People from communities near and far come to bike, ride, run, and walk the miles of trails. On October 14 and 15, Kosciusko County Velo (KCV) — a non-profit organization that maintains the Winona Lake trails — will host its second annual Winona Lake Trail Fest. The trail fest invites all trail users to support the trails they enjoy every day.

The goal of the trail fest is threefold: to increase awareness of the trails, engage volunteers to help maintain the trails, and raise funds for the continuation of the trails. Anyone is welcome to participate in any of the many events or come and be a spectator. 

“It’s a great way to cap off the cycling season by shining a light on this incredible amenity that we’re blessed to have,” says Greg Demopoulos, co-founder of KCV. 

Competitors sprint to their bikes to start the 6-hour endurance race.Saturday will start with the 5K and 10K trail fun runs at 10 a.m., followed by the six-hour endurance mountain bike race beginning at 1 p.m. The racer who completes the most laps within the time limit wins. Racers can enter solo or with a team of up to three people. These two events have entry fees and the proceeds support the trails.
That evening the festival will host a night ride on the trails. Guided night rides are available for those who prefer to follow someone. 

Then, Sunday morning begins with the kid’s mountain bike races and free skills clinics.

Karen Wood, KCV member and “trail mom,” directs the kid’s races and skill clinics through a bike education organization called Trailblazers. Trailblazers is a bike club for kids grades K-12 to learn to ride and compete. The club meets twice a week from June through October at two bike trails in Northern Indiana — Franke Park in Fort Wayne and the Winona Lake trails. She is a Scholastic Cycling Association Coach and Coach Trainer. She’s worked with people from ages 8 to 80 who enjoy the accomplishment of mountain biking.  

“I hope to grow the kid’s program and give kids more skill and ability so they can ride for the rest of their lives,” Wood says. 

From left to right: Greg Demopoulos, Mike Cusick, Karen Wood, and Fred HelfrichThe event ends with a potluck meal followed by the popular poker run where racers, on foot or bicycle, receive poker cards for every lap completed. The individual with the best hand at the end of the race wins a prize. 

The poker run is a favorite of cyclist and KCV Volunteer Nathan Lothamer, who began biking at the age of 50.

“I met the community through cycling,” says Lothamer. “My favorite part of the trail fest is getting everyone in the cycling community together at one time.”

KCV began in 2003 with the intent of creating a strategic plan to promote cycling as a whole in the community. They host other events and regular public meetings throughout the season. Each May, KCV also hosts the three-day Fat and Skinny Tire Fest, which KCV President Mike Cusick says is one of the largest cycling events in the Midwest. 

Bikers of all ages enjoy the trail fest.With nearly 400 people attending or volunteering at the Winona Lake Trail Fest last year, it is on track to become the fall iteration of the Fat and Skinny Tire Fest. 

“The Winona Lake Trail Fest is more focused on the trails to raise awareness about what’s there, why it’s there, and the potential that it has,” says Fred Helfrich, the advocacy chair for KCV.

The event will also include live music and a food truck for the public to enjoy at the Hauth Trailhead across from the Miller Athletic Complex on the Grace College campus. 

“The proximity of the Winona Lake Trails to the Grace College campus is a blessing,” says Matt Metzger, the director of Grace Outdoors, which connects students with outdoor recreational opportunities in the area. “The trail fest is an opportunity to build a closer connection between Grace students and the Winona Lake biking community.”  

The 15-acre Hauth Trailhead was purchased by KCV two years ago with the ultimate goal of creating a bike park. 

Bikers of all ages enjoy the trail fest.“We want to highlight this opportunity to build an incredible bike park that would add to the community’s amenities and bring more people to the area for more than just events,” says Demopoulos.

Long-time cyclist and KCV Volunteer Sarah Marsh is excited about making the dream of the bike park a reality. Her whole family bikes and competes together.

“The trail fest is the favorite event of the year for many people in the community because it unites all those who love the trails,” says Cusick.

Demopoulos adds, “It’s going to take all of us to keep the trails around.”

To learn more about the Winona Lake Trail Fest, to find out how you can support the trails, and to sign up for events, click here.
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