Four Oak Park and River Forest friends plan bike trek as rain forest fundraiser

Riding to save the rain forests

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By Jack Crowe

Cycling Columnist

Imagine you are one of four friends who graduated from OPRF High school in 2010 and then left to go away to college. Imagine that you all met back in Oak Park on spring break of your college freshman year and talked about doing a long bike trek together.

But you decide that the ride would be pretty meaningless unless you did it in support of some big idea. So you decide to use the bike ride to save the rain forests.

And then rather than talking about it, you do it.

That's what Mary Kate Sperduto, Adam Bauer-Goulden, Willie Heineke, and Ross Sullivan of Oak Park and River Forest are planning. They have formed the Rainforest Rescue Coalition.

The goal is simple: raise donations totaling $25,000 to fund two specific rain forest preservation projects by riding 300 miles from Sturgeon Bay, Wis., to Oak Park between May 18 and May 26. They are calling it the "Ride for the Rain Forest."

Bauer-Goulden came up with the idea of a multi-day bike ride, but Sperduto said it quickly dawned on the group that it would be "awesome" to do it for a cause, "an issue we all feel deeply about, an urgent problem that needs to be fixed."

Sperduto, an environmental studies student at Prescott College in Arizona, said that many of her fellow students seem paralyzed over the fact of environmental collapse throughout the environment. She wanted to act and not just study. That is why she has been juggling the Ride for the Rain Forest project with her university work over the past year.

"We started with a bike trip, but now we've found a cause that involves direct action, is tangible, and can bring change now."

They have created a mission statement: "to support sustainable relationships between humans and nature through the conservation and protection of rain forests throughout the world."

Through the Rain Forest Preservation Council in Chicago they set up their own nonprofit organization, so they can receive contributions. They have already raised more than $15,000 toward their goal.

They have identified two specific projects to fund.

The first is in the endangered Rawa Kuno Legacy Forest on the island of Borneo, which is home to over 200 of the last wild orangutans on the planet. Orangutan populations have decreased by 50 percent in the last 10 years, and 90 percent of the remaining orangutans live in the besieged forests of Borneo. The Rainforest Rescue Coalition will purchase 120 acres of land now in private hands and donate it to the orangutan preserve.

The other money will be used to run a sustainable agro-forestry program for native communities living in a buffer zone of the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo communal conservation area in the Peruvian Amazon. Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo has more species of primates than any other area in the world, and in one hectare of its forest are more species of trees than in all of North America. Current native community agriculture practices continue to infringe on this rare preserve.

Now for the ride. The number of riders is up to nine, including two additional Oak Parkers, Sean White and David Heannicke.

Over a week, they will cycle 40 to 70 miles per day, mostly on bike trails along Lake Michigan and in the Kettle Moraine State Park in Wisconsin.

They will camp in the park and other nature areas as well as a few homes. On May 26, they hope to be joined by other local bikers for the last leg of the ride from Evanston to Oak Park. The ride will end with a big fiesta for donors and friends in Oak Park.

They have planned several fundraising events leading up to the ride, including a save the rainforest spin ride at FFC on May 12 at 7 a.m. You can learn more about the project and how to help at

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Bill Heineke from River Forest  

Posted: April 30th, 2012 10:46 AM

The photo caption misidentifies the RRC people. It's Sperduto, Bauer-Goulden, Sullivan and Heineke; not Heineke, Sullivan

Laura Lesondak Sullivan from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: April 27th, 2012 10:23 AM

They are in colleges across the country and much has been accomplished via email and Skype. They've been very committed throughout the entire year long process and they're thrilled the day is almost here!

Dave Coulter  

Posted: April 27th, 2012 8:27 AM

What a cool story read on Arbor Day!

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