PORT ORCHARD — When Carlea Dill was a student years ago at South Colby Elementary, one of the highlights of the school year was the annual Safety Fair and Bicycle Rodeo that was staged locally.
The event was a fun mishmash of gee-whiz activities crafted to entertain the elementary school-age set who used their bicycles for entertainment, transportation and as a means to show off. But what a fair number of kids who attended the event might not have been aware of was that, first and foremost, the bicycle rodeo was all about safety.
“I still have three trophies from the bike rodeos at my mom’s house,” Dill said of her elementary school year adventure at the events. “It was a big deal at our school.”
Even though Dill’s days at South Colby are long past, she’s still a fan of the bike safety event. She’s more than a fan these days, however. As the fire and life safety specialist with South Kitsap Fire and Rescue, Dill works alongside Jeff Faucett, SKFR assistant fire chief, to plan the event each year for the community.
As in past years, SKFR partnered with the Kiwanis Club of Port Orchard to sponsor the safety and informational event May 19 at the Walmart parking lot on a rainless Saturday morning and afternoon.
“We used to hold it at Fred Meyer,” Dill said, “but we just ran out of room. Here (at the Walmart parking lot), we have the space to do stuff. Years ago when I attended one of these, there were about eight to 10 booths, so we’ve grown — a lot.”
It’s grown enough to have taken over more than half of the superstore’s parking lot.
In addition to including the familiar bike safety pathway where bike riders can get tested for their acumen on the road, the event also has an assortment of tented areas featuring various law enforcement staff members, Red Cross, Kitsap County agencies, South Kitsap Helpline, Habitat for Humanity and Airlift Northwest.
At the bike safety course, 3-year-old bicycle riding novice Juliet of Port Orchard got instructions from a Kiwanis Club volunteer before she set out to challenge the course.
Eyeing the asphalt path, Juliet narrowed her flinty eyes in concentration, took a quick glance at her mother, then set out to conquer the set-up obstacles in front of her.
There was little danger of a mishap, however. The Kiwanis helper had a firm grip on her bicycle’s handlebars. And besides, her tiny cycle still had a pair of training wheels attached to the rear wheels to keep her upright.
A little while later, bicycle veteran Francisca, 8, of Orchard Heights took her turn on the bicycle course. As important as steering safely along the course, however, was to ensure that her new helmet sat smartly on her head.
The overriding theme at the event, as demonstrated to the bicycle riders, is safety.
“It’s about safety in general,” Faucett said.
“We really want the community to come out. There’s really something for everyone.”
Faucett said more than 400 new bicycle helmets were given out free of charge to children who have bikes.
“Any kid who doesn’t have a bicycle helmet can leave here with a helmet,” the assistant fire chief said.
“Last year, I think we had 300 to 400 kids attend the event. This year, we’re projecting about 1,000 will visit.
That attendance is remarkable, considering the bicycle safety rodeo coincided with the Armed Forces Parade in Bremerton.
Faucett said the rodeo previously had been staged in April, but “most of those days got rained out.”
Dill admitted putting on this kind of event with participants, who come from many outside organizations, is like wrestling an octopus — there are lots of moving parts. But the SKFR employee is undeterred.
“It’s a group effort,” she said, nodding to co-organizer Faucett.
“I just happen to be lucky enough to coordinate it. It’s a lot of fun. I really, really enjoy it. I won’t know what to do with myself starting tomorrow.”