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Bike Hike this Saturday…Event has storied past in history of Roanoke

The 48th annual Bike Hike, one of the longest running fundraising efforts in the county and a mainstay of the spring calendar in Roanoke, will be this Saturday at 8 a.m., with registration opening at 7 a.m. at the Roanoke Recreation Center.

The story of Bike Hike and the Randolph County Learning Center is one that has become a rich part of the town’s history and is a vital part of the annual calendar in the community.

In 1974 a group of local parents and interested citizens began meeting to draw attention to the unmet needs of the developmentally disabled in Randolph County. Through 1975 the group met throughout the county in churches, schools, and in any public forum available to bring this need to the attention of the citizens of Randolph County.

Through the grass roots efforts of this group, the Randolph County Learning Center was created.

The Association was incorporated in 1975 and began a public awareness campaign about the need for services. The first priority for the group was a center for individuals to attend. The program was to be patterned after an existing program in Clay County, and funds and certification were sought from the Department of Mental Health and Intellectual Disability.

The group soon learned from the Department, that before any state and federal money could be accessed, the local community would need local match money. Many private and business donations were made, but a large fundraiser was needed to start a program. At that time, in 1976, Randolph County had to raise $11,500.

First Bike Hike gets national attention

In March of 1976 the Randolph County Association began plans for the first Bike Hike. The first Bike Hike in Randolph County caused much excitement and attention. The event was held in May, and 293 bikers and walkers participated and raised over $27,000.

The event even drew national attention because of 16-year-old Gene Gilham. Gilham completed the 25-mile hike in a wheelchair. Earl Manning from the local WELR radio station gave reports of Gene’s progress, and listeners called in pledges totaling over $6,000.

Gene wore out three pairs of gloves on his trek and was joined by a caravan on the last part of the route. In the weeks to come, messages of congratulations came in from Bear Bryant, Governor George Wallace, and President Gerald R. Ford.

Learning Center established

Due to the success of the Bike Hike and hard work of Randolph County, the Randolph County Learning Center was established. The Center was housed in the American Legion Building, Post #53. The Center is still housed in the Post at no cost. The building was renovated with help of local businesses and volunteers. The program has struggled through lean times, but the local support has always kept it going.

An ever-changing event

There have been many changes throughout the years. In 1986 the Warm-Up, individuals riding stationary bikes at the local radio station, was added. Employees from what was then the Wedowee Hospital (now Tanner Medical Center) have walked from the Hospital to the Radio Station starting out early that morning and arriving at the event around 8:30 to 9:00 in the morning. Pledges are called in to the radio station WELR. This event along with an annual auction continues to be the top money raiser for Bike Hike.

A Trike Trek for younger children was also added in 1986. The Trike Trek and Mini-Route continue as a regular event with the Bike Hike.

New events come and go each year. There have been tandem bicycle races across the county, volleyball tournaments, tug of wars, and the racing of riding lawnmowers through downtown Roanoke in a Lawn Mower 500.

During 2020 and 2021 many Bike Hike events were held “virtually” or limited due to Covid.

This year’s event

Saturday, the Randolph County Bike Hike will celebrate its 48th Anniversary. The caring and participation of Randolph County residents will be celebrated and remembered. Many individuals have participated in the Bike Hike since the beginning. Many young adults grew up participating in the event and have continued the tradition.

The Randolph County Learning Center continues to serve individuals with disabilities from throughout the Randolph County area. Services include, but are not limited to, daily transportation to and from the center, individualized training according to each person’s need, daily lunch, assistance with medical care, in-home training and in-home companion care, assistance with independent living, supported employment services, recreational activities, case management services, and assistance with Camp ASCCA trips.

A request

For the safety of Bike Hike participants (and your pets) we ask that residents of West Point St., College St., Canon Avenue, Pershing Avenue, and Government St. keep their dogs either fenced or in the house from 7-9 a.m.

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The Randolph County Learning Center is a non-profit 501(C) 3 organization. All donations are tax deductible.

Bike Hike 2023

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