Since 1988, westsider Andrew Dortch has been taking his Cycling Voyagers all over the Chicago area, opening open young minds to both the thrill of new places and the benefits of physical exercise. This June 20, he will do it again.

Dortch hopes to have some 100 participants between the ages of 10 and 15 who are interested in touring the various summer sites of Chicago, while also improving themselves physically. Children will study bicycle safety and riding skills, as well as bicycle mechanics and maintenance.

Safety first

“It’s usually not hard to sell the importance of wearing a helmet to the kids,” said Dortch, President and CEO of Dortch Enterprises at 2744 W. Gladys. “They are generally either already well versed on the importance of protection of the head or will see me fall occasionally from my bike and get the message quickly.”

The cost of the camp is only $170, which pays for two team t-shirts and helmet, lunch, access to swimming facilities in Humbolt and Garfield Parks, among

others, as well as entry fees to museums and amusement parks and sports activities.

“The camp is essentially a bike camp, though it has many other dimensions,” said Dortch. “We also play tennis, golf, basketball and softball. I want the children to be able to fully expand their horizons.”

During each expedition, the camp assistants, most of whom are former participants in the program, will bring sports equipment along in support vehicles or in their bike baskets.

College brainstorm

Dortch conceived of the camp while taking a PE class in college. As part of that class he wrote a proposal for a bike program which would become the basis for the Cycling Voyagers.

Dortch first launched the program in 1987 as part of the recreational program offered at Merlac House, where he worked as a recreational supervisor. The two week program was highly successful, however, Merlac House declined to offer the program the following year. So Dortch left Merlac House and took a job with the Chicago Park District.

There he was able to expand the bike program, but eventually the lack of job security and creative freedom prompted Dortch to start his own business.

That business, Dortch Enterprises, finally allowed him to develop the recreational program he had envisioned in college.

This year Dortch expects over 100 kids to enroll in his bike camp. He has intentionally set the age limit low because, he said, 16- to 19-year-olds are primarily motivated by the need for social acceptance, and generally aren’t interested in such a benign hobby as biking.

“Younger children find the more important aspects of the camp, such as teamwork and fitness more accessible to adhere to,” said Dortch. “When we go out riding it is emphasized that we ride as a group. If one person stops, we all must stop; if a person needs a quick bike repair during the ride, we must stop and help him fix it. The children are taught to value each other and teamwork is key.”

Among the many communities the camp will ride in are the Thatcher Woods in west suburban Melrose Park and the Great Western Trail in south west suburban Western Springs. Participants will be required to learn all of the important landmarks throughout the Chicago area, including Buckingham Fountain and Millennium Park.

“I want them to have more sight seeing brochures than me by summer’s end, so that they have a thorough knowledge of Chicago and its points of interest,” said Dortch. “We will go on Navy Pier and on sightseeing boats, and it’s important for them to remember what they saw during the camp.”

It is also important in terms of safety. Although it has not happened often, the possibility of a child becoming separated from the group and getting lost is always a concern. So each child will carry a walkie-talkie whenever they ride, as a precautionary measure.

They each will also have contact information for both the main office, the assistants and Dortch himself in case of separation.

“This camp is my pet project, it is such a pleasure to hold it,” said Dortch. “It is a wonderful way for children to develop their leadership skills and to motivate them to become more health conscious.”

For application forms and information contact Andrew Dortch at 773-428-7005.