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About 60 cyclists participated in the Willows (Calif.) High School Booster Club's third annual "Farm to Forest" fundraiser this spring, which raised $1,500 for the club. 

With a small community of about 4,500 residents, the Willows (Calif.) High School Booster Club wanted to develop a fundraiser that would draw people from neighboring towns to support the school's athletic teams. Its solution was a bike riding challenge, which attracts participants from throughout the region.

"Our club has several fundraisers every year, including our tri-tip steak booth at the home football games, a golf tournament in August, and a Christmas tree booth in December," says booster club member Adele Foley. "When we came up with the idea of having the Farm to Forest bike ride, we were hoping to have an event that wouldn't ask the same group of people for more support."

Instead, the fundraiser targets bicyclists who enjoy challenging scenic rides rather than competitive races. The route starts at a park that is near Willows High School, which is located in the floor of the valley, and has several neighboring farms. The ride then takes riders past forested mountains. Participants pay an entrance fee and can choose among several options.

This year, the club offered four divisions with varied difficulty and expense. They included 104 mile Challenge ($45, with lunch along the route included), 75 mile Avoid the Challenge ($40, with lunch along the route included), 35 mile Scenic ($30), and 14 Beginners/Kids ($10). All participants, and members of the community, could also purchase $10 tickets for a dinner in the evening.

"We want it to be a lot of fun for all different types of riders," says Foley. "Our toughest route has an elevation climb of 5,000 feet but many of our participants prefer riding on flat terrain, or do not have experience with a steep elevation climb. Several participants are just happy to be out for a scenic ride, so we have incorporated the shorter distances for them."

The ride has gotten bigger every year, both in terms of participants, and in ways to make the riders more comfortable. "We have added a bike mechanic to our lineup of race volunteers," Foley says. "And this year, we had ham [amateur] radio operators at each of the rest stops. There isn't reception for cell phones in the higher elevations, and we wanted riders to have a way of contacting the sag wagon, which is a support vehicle for cyclists, or the mechanic, if they needed help."
 
It takes months of planning, and a significant amount of work before the participants can head out on the morning of the ride. To begin with, the club contacts the sheriff's office to confirm the route, and notify authorities about the ride. Other important details at this stage of planning include recruiting volunteers, designing and ordering t-shirts for the participants, and confirming sponsors that help out with some of the race's expenses, such as renting porta-potties.
 
Next, the club works on gaining support for the ride, and publicizing it. "We get volunteers, the ham radio operators, and the sag wagon and rest stop stations lined up," Foley says. "We get the advertising underway by writing articles to run in the local newspapers and we paint signs to put up by the road. This year, we also spoke on the local TV station about it, and ran ads in Cycle magazine. To help with registering riders, as well as promoting the event, we put information on Signmeup.com."

As the event gets closer, the club asks for the community to donate supplies to make the day an all-around success. "This year we started at 7:00 a.m., with donuts and Starbucks coffee during our registration," Foley says. "We have a lunch stop on both our 75 and 100 mile rides, along with our other rest stops. Then, after the ride is finished, we have a dinner that everyone can attend, so we need a lot of food for the day.  

"We had some menu changes this year, to accommodate requests from the riders," she continues. "But we ended up with a delicious dinner, featuring rosemary barbequed chicken, several side dishes, and brownies for dessert. It was a great way to end the event."

Although this year's ride received positive feedback and was enjoyed by all who attended, the club is considering how to improve the event in the future. "We learn something every year," Foley says. "The riders are great about giving us advice and suggestions, so we try to follow their lead. We also have a few local bicyclists who participate in other rides--they're great about giving us pointers to make the day more enjoyable. The most important part is to listen to your riders' feedback. If you do that, your event is likely to grow and be successful."



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