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Commissioner visits school kids

by Linda Hiller

Sometimes even little voices can be heard.

Especially if there are 41 little voices writing letters to the county manager and county commissioners about a bike path to their school.

Tuesday morning, Douglas County Commissioner Kelly Kite traveled to Jacks Valley Elementary School to respond to the letter-writers, 4th grade students from the classes of teachers Stacey Chambers and Mark Paloolian.

“I was very impressed with your letters,” Kite told the students assembled in the school’s library. “And the reason I came here today is to tell you that we are working on a bike path from your school to the intersection of Highway 395 and Jacks Valley Road, where Target is now. I also came to tell you that when you write letters, even if you’re only in the 4th grade, you can make a difference. What you did was exactly the right thing.”

– What got them started. The letter-writing began last fall, Chambers said, precipitated by the Oct. 10 opening of Target at Jacks Valley Road and Highway 395. Neighborhood children, many of them students at JVES, wanted to walk to the discount department store with a popular snack bar, but found it a dangerous adventure with no sidewalk or bike path up Jacks Valley Road, approximately one mile due east from the school.

Chambers said JVES principal Pam Gilmartin had sent a letter to teachers last fall stating the possibility of a bike path going in, and encouraged some input.

“At that time, we were doing a unit on writing friendly letters, so we decided to have the kids write to commissioners about the bike path,” Chambers said.

Currently, there is a bike lane from Genoa to JVES. The extension to Highway 395 – the bike path being requested by the stidents – could be in as early as next summer, Kite said.

“But I can’t guarantee that,” he said. “At least you should know that we’re working on it.”

– A sampling of the letters. “Dear Mr. Holler,” wrote Carrie Linn in December. “I would like to ride my bike to school because I really like riding my bike….If we had a wide bike path down Jacks Valley Road, the buses wouldn’t be so crowded.”

“Dear Mr. Holler,” wrote Shiloh Webb. “I would like to ride my bike to school because I would like to enjoy the cenry. If we had a wide bike path down Jacks Valley Road, it would be safe, fun and enjoyable.”

“Dear Mr. Kite,” wrote Krista. “I would like a bike path because my mom would know I’m safe. It would also be more exercise and it would be verry fun and enjoyable.”

“Dear Mr. Kite,” wrote Kris. “I would like to ride my bike to school because I have 2 bikes and I have noware to ride them.”

“Dear Mr. Bob Nunes,” wrote Jonathan Hays. “I would really appreciate it if you would make a bike trail on Jacks Valley Road. That is because it is alot safer. Another reason is because sometimes I have to go on the road and it holds up the traffic.”

“Dear Mr. Kelly Kite,” wrote Patrick Thielen. “I think you should make a bike trail from Jacks Valley School to Target because when cars are coming we have no choice but to get off the rode. When we do that we might get hurt or pop our bike tires. I love animals. I love riding my bike.”

“Dear Mr. Dan Holler,” wrote Ashley. “I think you should have a rode because I ride my bike and it’s unsafe for me becaus I would be hit by a car. I think I could fall over and hit my head on a rock. I like to see the senery.”

– It’s slow going. Kite told students that one of the frustrations of politics is the way things move at a slow pace, even something as important as a bike path to improve the safety of children.

“To do a bike path properly, it’s going to cost around $500,000,” he said. “That’s a half a million dollars. We have to buy some of the land, called an easement, to make room for the path. Your parent group, PIE, has collected some money, and we hope to get some grant money and match it with county funds.”

Kite’s message to the students of Mr. Paloolian and Ms. Chambers – one of writing letters and speaking out when you want change – was heard by the students and emphasized by their teachers.

“I was so surprised to get the call from Mr. Kite saying that he would come and talk to us,” Chambers said. “It’s a great message for the kids.”

– Make a difference. Kite told the children that the reason he got involved in politics was because he, too, wanted to make a difference.

“I wanted to do things, and being a taxpayer and a strong proponent of property rights, I had people tell me I should get involved,” he said. “And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here today and see you. I wanted you to know how important it is to have public participation. If you want a bike path, a pool, or anything, the best thing to do is write letters.”

Students asked questions of Kite, including what his “real” job is (insurance salesman), how much he makes as a commissioner ($18,000), is the job hard (yes), are there windows in his office (no) and will he run for president (no). They also had specific questions about the bike path.

“Will there be cones on the path?” one student asked.

“No cones,” Kite said.

“Are you guys gonna use that black stuff that’s on the playground?” asked Wes Haskell. “You know, that sticky stuff?”

“The tar?” asked another student.

“No, we’ll use the good stuff,” Kite said.

Chambers said the success of this letter-writing endeavor may lead to newer, bigger dreams for students of JVES.

“Maybe we’ll ask for a Disneyland in Douglas County,” she said to big smiles from the students.

“Hey, I’ll write a letter, too,” Kite said. “I love Disneyland.”