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'Mission Accomplished': Conkey Cruisers founder sees the end of the road

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Theresa Bowick is not one to cower in the face of a challenge.

The founder of Conkey Cruisers has kept the neighborhood cycling program going through difficulties with drug trafficking and homelessnessalong the El Camino Trail where young and old learn to ride.  When the organization's entire fleet of bikes was stolen in 2015, Bowick rallied the community to replace them with an even bigger collection.

The registered nurse has even persevered despite her own chronic illness -- a rare disorder that causes painful, golf ball-sized tumors to form on the soles of her feet.

But this next challenge may be insurmountable, even for Bowick.

"It's bittersweet, but it's a mission accomplished," Bowick said about Conkey Cruisers, the nonprofit she started in 2012. It's inspired hundreds of Rochesterians to embrace healthier lifestyles through cycling and nutritious eating.

Donations for the program have dried up in the last year. Many past donors, Bowick said, redirected their money to pandemic-related causes. Bowick's illness means she has less time to apply for grants to cover an annual $75,000 operating budget.

"I usually will have half of the money raised by (May), if not more than that," she said. "I've never gotten to this point in the season, in our latter years, where we have less than $500 in the bank."

But it isn't just about money.

Bowick said people are afraid to ride a bicycle in city neighborhoods or on the El Camino Trail because of an increase in violent crime and the ATV and dirt bike riders who don't ride safely.

"I cannot, in good conscience, bring kids, particularly that don't know how to ride well, into the neighborhood," she added. "If I had a million dollars in the bank right now, I could not start Conkey Cruisers today because of the safety in the neighborhood -- the dirt bike issue. It is that out of control."

Recently, in a one-week span, Bowick said she nearly got into three collisions with dirt bike riders who were not paying attention or running red lights. Both the Monroe County Legislature and Rochester City Council are considering legislation that would authorize police to confiscate illegally used ATVs and dirt bikes and impose hefty fees for their release.

But Bowick believes Conkey Cruisers is reaching a natural conclusion and expects the organization's 10th anniversary on July 7, 2022, to be a farewell party with a lot to celebrate.

If enough money can be raised to open a bike season this year, outings will be planned in other locations around Monroe County, such as the Brickyard Trail in Brighton and the Genesee River Way Trail, Bowick said. She doesn't believe the neighborhood around Conkey Avenue and Avenue B, where Conkey Cruisers was born, is safe enough for bicyclists this summer.

"I still gotta pay these bills that are due now and get us through this next year and two months, and then we'll just celebrate and thank God that we had what we had," Bowick said.

Donations to Conkey Cruisers can be made on the organization'swebsite.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.