By Steve Hubrecht

The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) has named Doug Charlton volunteer for the year for RDEK Area F.

Charlton was awarded the honour for the work he’s done with his unregistered nonprofit Bike It Forward, which sees Charlton repair and refurbish old, unwanted bicycles in his backyard shop and then hand them out to kids in need of a new bike: be they local kids here in the Columbia Valley, refugees and other migrants new to Canada, or children living in Canada’s far north.

“It’s a great honour to be named volunteer of the year. I have great respect for all the people who have been given the award in the past, and I’m honoured to be included with them,” Charlton told the Pioneer.

Bike It Forward began several years ago, when Charlton started fixing up bikes and sending them to Nunavut as part of the Polar Bike Program. Charlton has since expanded his reach by partnering with various government agencies, local nonprofits, and the Mosaic Refugee Health Clinic in Calgary. So far, Charlton has given out 430 bikes this year, and he figures he may hit 500 by year’s end.

The bikes come from individual donations or are salvaged by Charlton from the ‘Windermere Walmart’ (the section of the local landfill where salvageable items are temporarily kept).

Charlton told the Pioneer his chooses bikes as his avenue to give back to the community for several reasons. “First of all, seeing all these bikes that can be made usable sitting in the metal pile in the dump strikes me as a big waste. They just need an old guy like me with a bunch of tools and a bit of time to resurrect them, so I do,” he told the Pioneer. “Then, there’s the feeling I have that every kid on the planet needs a bike. They’re so much fun, they’re so healthy, and they give kids a sense of freedom and a sense of inclusion…I’m pretty thrilled when I see a kid take off on a bike I fixed. They’re so alive. That’s all the reward I need.”

Charlton thanked the individuals, groups and businesses, including the valley’s cycling and sports stores, for the help they gave him, and thanked those who helped him with deliveries, pickups, repairs and rebuilding of bikes, donations of bikes, parts and money.

“Doug is an inspiration. His boundless energy and desire to help those in need are infectious. With volunteers like him calling the Columbia Valley home, I know that we are in a good place,” said RDEK Area F director Susan Clovechok in a press release.