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By: Ashley Bishop, KEDCO Intern
This story is part of a summer blog series focused on experiences in Kosciusko County through the lens of KEDCO Communications Intern, Ashley Bishop. As a K-County native and senior at Butler University, Ashley shares her inside scoop on things to do and places to see, as a 20-something living life fully in Kosciusko County.
Co-founder of Kosciusko County Velo (KCV) and Fat & Skinny Tire Festival, Greg Demopoulos, is excited to celebrate KCV’s 20th anniversary and to put on the 18th annual festival. He gave me an inside scoop on how Fat & Skinny and KCV was founded.
With a passion for cycling, Greg served as president of Ball State University’s bicycling club, and landed an internship in Warsaw with Sun Ringlé at the time. From this internship, he found a community of people who loved the sport as much as he did. He was able to watch the Village at Winona, the Heritage Trail, bike trails, and so much more be built during his early years here.
Greg was then introduced to the blossoming bike community which included his good friend, Robbie Gast. With the Trailhouse being founded in 2002 by Gast’s parents Nancy and Rob, there seemed to be a surging desire to build up the infrastructure around biking. The mountain bike trails were built and the Heritage Trail was soon to be on its way.
Not long after the opening, Frankie Andreu, famous Tour De France racer, came and spoke at the Trailhouse where around 200 people crammed inside to hear him speak. At dinner that night, Frankie noted how supportive and invested the local community was which Greg deemed the “aha moment” for him and Robbie. That very night in February 2003, they dreamt about what would become the Fat & Skinny Tire Festival.
They needed an established club or body of people to represent the community, so KCV came to life. The club was created around Fat & Skinny and was thrown together so quickly, the first logo was just a bold “KCV.”
Robbie found himself wanting a weekend-long event that was fun. To him, this meant cycling along with live music and… beer, of course. After the first festival in 2004, it became evident that this event would be much more than what they had initially dreamt up over a year prior. “It’s holistic. When we started, we wanted a fun event, but we quickly realized after the first few years that there was something more special about it. It gave light to what it could do for the community as a whole,” said Demopoulos.
By the second festival, the Heritage Trail was to be opened. The festival had the honor of hosting the official ribbon cutting for the trails, showing the rapid growth in excitement and respect for the biking community.
As Greg reminisced about the rise of the biking community, he noted the circumstances of the founding of it all by saying, “For me, I look at it as if it was truly the right place, right people, right time and it all just came together. Call it luck, but the people that were passionate about it were already here and came together.”
The first festival had around 25 volunteers which was made up mostly of friends and family of Greg and Robbie. This year, over 300 people signed up to volunteer. The community becomes more involved year after year and the popularity of the event has spread beyond the county.
While Robbie Gast sadly passed in 2011, he is still remembered well through the local community. KCV honors someone every year with the “Robbie Gast Award.” This award is to honor those who show up and go out of their way to volunteer, maintaining our beautiful trails and creating a better overall environment. Robbie frequently said, “We need more givers and less takers!” as he fully believed that if people stepped up and helped, we could create the bike-friendly community that we have today.
“After he passed away, my wife came up with the idea of having a ‘Volunteer of the Year’ award that represents the mindset Robbie had, and steps in to really help out. We look at who has started volunteering and then if someone noticeably steps up and volunteers consistently, is involved more in driving the initiative, in helping however they can, shows up to meetings, etc.,” said Demopoulos.
I feel truly blessed to play a small part in this annual event, and to be a part of this amazing community.