2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

First Friday becomes a cultural extravaganza on wheels

Published: May 11, 2014, 8:00 am, by Bill Vogrin

051114 Side Streets 2If you enjoy public art displays, street performers, art galleries and bicycling, mark June 6 on your calendar. Or on your Smartphone. Or your tablet. Or on the back of your hand or on whatever you use to keep track of coming events.

June 6 will be the first Friday of the month, which means there will be tons of special events that evening celebrating all things cultural in downtown Colorado Springs with a twist added by the good folks at UpaDowna, the nonprofit group dedicated to getting people outdoors.

UpaDowna LogoI’ve written about the free Downtown First Friday events before. I think they are great with their gallery openings, special exhibits, artists sketching passersby on street corners, concerts and more.

It’s all part of the Downtown Partnership’s efforts to draw folks to the heart of the city to experience its vibrant cultural scene.

Now they are spicing things up by partnering with UpaDowna to lead bicycle tours of various art pieces, galleries and events.

purchase-giftcards-for-downtown-colorado-springs“Bikes and art are just a natural combination,” said Susan Edmondson, president of Downtown Partnership. “Hundreds of folks come out for First Friday Downtown, but all the galleries and creative spots can be a bit spread out, so this biking tour with UpaDowna is an ideal partnership. We’re really focusing on enhancing the pedestrian and bicycle experience downtown, and this is just one super fun way to accomplish that.”

If you don’t know UpaDowna, you should. Especially if you need a little motivation to drop the remote and get outside.

Bicycle riders led by UpaDowna, a nonprofit dedicated to getting people to enjoy the outdoors, congregate around a sculpture in Acacia Park on Friday, May 2, 2014, as part of a free Downtown First Friday event. UpaDowna will lead bike tours fo downtown again June 6 and each "First Friday" through Oct. 3 in conjunction with the Downtown Partnership’s efforts to expose people to all the cultural opportunities downtown. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

Bicycle riders led by UpaDowna, a nonprofit dedicated to getting people to enjoy the outdoors, congregate around a sculpture in Acacia Park on Friday, May 2, 2014, as part of a free Downtown First Friday event. UpaDowna will lead bike tours fo downtown again June 6 and each “First Friday” through Oct. 3 in conjunction with the Downtown Partnership’s efforts to expose people to all the cultural opportunities downtown. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

I joined them May 2 for their inaugural First Friday Bike Tour. A group of 10 mounted bikes and spent a couple hours pedaling around downtown.

We stopped on Pikes Peak Avenue at “Reverse Prometheus” — a water tank turned into a rocketship aimed skyward. I love the sculpture. But the pricetag is in a different stratosphere than me at $25,000!

Then the group headed over to Cascade Avenue and a stop at “Constellations III” — a cluster of three abstract steel sculptures in the median. We passed several other art pieces and stopped to chat about them as we headed to Acacia Park.

Next up was a couple of abandoned storefronts on Bijou Street where artists were waiting to explain the displays they had created inside.

One used mannequins and the other held hanging textile displays. They are part of the Art in the Storefront project which dresses up empty store windows until new tenants are found.

The art gets exposure while downtown gets a revitalized feel rather than the depressing sight of empty businesses.

Back on our bikes we saw sidewalk chalk art, more storefronts and then we headed over the West Colorado Avenue bridge down to the Depot Art District for a tour of some cool art galleries.

UpaDowna founder Steve Hitchcock led a First Friday Downtown fun ride on May 2, 2014. Photo courtesy Mark Davies.

UpaDowna founder Steve Hitchcock led a First Friday Downtown fun ride on May 2, 2014. Photo courtesy Mark Davies.

Leading our tour was UpaDowna founder Steve Hitchcock and his wife, Randi Hitchcock, along with project developer Robert Mitchell.

Steve launched UpaDowna after he retired from the Army, where his service included a tour in Iraq.

Steve and Robert had gotten in the habit of organizing casual hikes, encouraging friends to join them by dubbing them “UpaDowna” hikes.

“It was Upa a mountain and Downa beer,” Robert explained to me.

Gradually the idea gelled in 2007 into a nonprofit agency.

“UpaDowna exists to inspire people to get outdoors,” Steve said.

It’s been achieving its goal in more and more ways. In spring and summer it leads weekly Wednesday evening “pedal parties” in partnership with Macabe’s Tavern and its Cruiser Joy Rides, taking riders around the downtown region.

There are regular hikes and climbs and runs and walks and “women on bikes” events and much more.

Bicycle riders led by UpaDowna, a nonprofit dedicated to getting people to enjoy the outdoors, congregate around an "Art in the Storefront" exhibit on Bijou Street on Friday, May 2, 2014, as part of a free Downtown First Friday event. UpaDowna will lead bike tours fo downtown again June 6 and each "First Friday" through Oct. 3 in conjunction with the Downtown Partnership’s efforts to expose people to all the cultural opportunities downtown. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

Bicycle riders led by UpaDowna, a nonprofit dedicated to getting people to enjoy the outdoors, congregate around an “Art in the Storefront” exhibit on Bijou Street on Friday, May 2, 2014, as part of a free Downtown First Friday event. UpaDowna will lead bike tours fo downtown again June 6 and each “First Friday” through Oct. 3 in conjunction with the Downtown Partnership’s efforts to expose people to all the cultural opportunities downtown. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

I wasn’t alone in my enthusiasm for the bike tour. Riding along was writer Alicia Howie who took photos and talked with friends and seemed to be enjoying the event.

“I love doing art stuff and I like seeing art in a different way and this is making it fun,” Alicia said during one of the stops.

Her sentiments were echoed by others on the ride including Mark Davies, who is an UpaDowna regular.

“I thought they did a really good job,” Mark said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen the art downtown. I had no idea some of that stuff was even there.”

Mark said he rode in all the 2013 pedal parties and some of its Sunday hikes.

“I really like UpaDowna,” Mark said. “It’s for people who were inactive. I was one of them. They try to get you off the couch.”

Gazette Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin pauses to take notes during a First Friday fun ride in downtown Colorado Springs on May 2, 2014. Photo courtesy Mark Davies.

Gazette Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin pauses to take notes during a First Friday fun ride in downtown Colorado Springs on May 2, 2014. Photo courtesy Mark Davies.

Mark said Steve, Randi and Robert do a great job combining outdoor exercise with fun while offering a pace that welcomes folks of all abilities.

For example, Mark’s wife has rheumatoid arthritis, which limits her ability to participate in traditional running events. But he was able to push her in a wheelchair at an UpaDowna event.

“They are always fun events and I always seem to meet new people,” Mark said. “And they try not to make things too difficult. They are great.”

What more do you need to hear? Just find someplace to jot down June 6 and UpaDowna and Downtown Colorado Springs.