HISTORY MYSTERY: Snowmobile Kids
When winter arrives, snowmobile drivers, parents, special needs kids, members of police department and Clay Fire Department wait for Mr. Rob Bick to start the annual Snowmobile Ride Day for Special Need Kids behind the Clay Town Hall. In the other photo, Mr. Bick, Clay Town Assessor, is explaining the history of the day to employees of Channel 9. An avid skier, climber and snowmobiler, he explains that the idea goes back to 1996 when he had the opportunity to be part of the first group of riders to fly to Roseau, Minnesota to tour the Polaris factory and meet with company executives regarding the future of snowmobiling.
What struck Mr. Bick about the people and the region was the enthusiasm and reverence for the sport and the business benefits and opportunities it provides. For them it was a way of life. He wondered how he could bring this enthusiasm back home. In 2002 he had the opportunity to do some work in the Town of Canton where his alma mater, St. Lawrence University, is located and it adjoins a golf course. While there he visited friends who had an autistic child who loved snowmobiling with him. One day he saw snowmobile riders on the St. Lawrence Golf Course and thought what a great place to ride with no obstacles. The idea clicked in his mind: “How do I introduce children with these special needs to the great sport of snowmobiling, an opportunity many have never experienced?” The Operations VP at St. Lawrence gave Mr. Bick his blessings and the resources of the University to pursue the idea. The first Snowmobile Ride for Children with Special Needs was born.
Mr. Bick started the event in the Town of Clay in 2008 with permission from the Clay Town Board and assistance from the Clay Recreation Department. The snowmobile riding area was groomed. (The snow was prepared.) There was tremendous support from the Clay Snow Owls Club, a fire engine, rides on a rescue sled from the Clay Fire Department and donations of food and beverages from local merchants. When Mr. Bick introduced the event in the Rochester area, the Town of Webster was the host. The supervisor and town board were very supportive and the recreation department created a day-long program. Besides the snowmobile rides, there was snowshoeing, broom hockey and bon fires. The Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club brought their own groomer and a host of volunteers. The Webster Volunteer Fire Department brought out their new Rescue ATV and rescue sleigh for rides.
For almost 20 years, Mr. Bick has organized these events statewide. He now partners with the “Live Like Your Living” Foundation, a non-profit he founded to raise awareness and funds to fight Metastatic Breast Cancer, the disease that claimed his wife in December of 2018. In every location the event is welcomed by the community. Clay and Central New York as a whole have been no different. It has become an annual event in Clay since 2008 (pending the appropriate snow condition). Mr. Bick believes the Clay venue has the perfect combination of being centrally located, a supportive town board, open space and building availability. He states: “It is amazing to see the same families come back year after year. You have a chance to see the progress and growth of the kids and an opportunity to create some new winter sports enthusiasts.” He would love to run an event at a ski resort, simply because the ability to guarantee snow would allow for a firm event date, which makes scheduling easier for volunteers and participants alike. He mentions that: “The Town of Clay spends millions of dollars a year on snow removal, so it is unlikely that they would buy a snow gun to actually produce snow in an effort to solidify this event. It would certainly be entertaining if that were the case.”
In conclusion, Mr. Bick says: “Winter is an amazing opportunity to explore the great outdoors. Our weather forecasters here have a tendency to over-hype cold and snow. People need to get off the couch, put down the glass and bag of chips, stop being miserable and get out there and maximize one of CNY’s greatest assets, our open space.”
Dorothy Heller, Historian