Courtesy of Gage Frank

After the pandemic forced the Elm City to hold its annual Rock to Rock Earth Day Ride in an entirely online format last year, residents are once again lacing their shoes up for a day of biking for the climate.

On Saturday, over 30 residents gathered at the corner of Hazel Street and Shelton Avenue in the Newhallville neighborhood for a kick-off rally, hoping to generate excitement in the weeks leading up to the event, held annually in April. The Rock to Rock Earth Day Ride, held this year on April 24, is one of New Haven’s largest annual civic activities, giving residents opportunities to engage with a multitude of non-profits around the city and raise money in support of environmental sustainability efforts. 

Though the event was held virtually last year due to the pandemic, organizers are planning to hold the event in-person with safety measures in place. According to Anna Pickett, who co-organizes the event with Yale’s Urban Resource Initiative, Rock to Rock creates a network of civically-engaged residents and non-profits and encourages collaborative solutions to promote environmental justice.

“We all care about the environment and are doing different initiatives to make our operations more environmentally-friendly,” Pickett said. “It’ll be a great opportunity for people to get out and exercise together in a safe way.”

In staggered groups of 10, riders will leave from East Rock, biking to West Rock and then returning to the starting point, travelling “rock to rock to rock”. The family ride will be held entirely within the limits of Edgewood Park, avoiding public roads. This is a departure from the race’s typical format, which begins at Common Grounds High School and ends at East Rock.

There will be three different options for riders at the event — a family ride, a 20-mile ride and a “metric century” 62-mile ride. In usual years, according to Pickett, they offer more possible routes, but the pandemic has limited the list to three. In the past, event organizers have worked with the Bradley Street Bike Co-op to provide bikeshare options for participants.

Rock to Rock is asking each of its riders to raise at least $100 for an organization of their choice. Riders can choose what organization to support from a list of about 36 community organizations doing environmental and social justice-related work. The money each organization receives must be used in some way to make their operations more environmentally-friendly.

One of the partner organizations for the annual Rock to Rock rides is Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, or DESK, a group that provides food assistance to unhoused residents and connects them with outreach services.

“Each year, donations made through the event support our ‘green’ initiatives, including a composting partnership with Gather New Haven, purchasing of reusable trays, cups, and cutlery, and switching to more energy efficient appliances,” DESK Executive Director Steve Werlin wrote in an email to the News. “It’s also a wonderful opportunity to branch out and work with nonprofit partners focused on areas beyond our primary mission of serving people experiencing homelessness.”

DESK has been a Rock to Rock partner for the past four years, one of the roughly three-dozen recipient organizations for the funds raised at the event.

Yale’s Urban Resource Initiative and the New Haven León Sister City Project are the two organizing partners working alongside Rock to Rock staff to help coordinate the event. The Yale Urban Resource Initiative is a program of the Yale School of Environment and works on urban forestry projects throughout the city. The New Haven León Sister City Project works to support sustainable development both in New Haven and in New Haven’s sister city, León in Nicaragua. Both the Yale Office of Sustainability and New Haven Office of Public Affairs have been long-time supporters of Rock to Rock, providing cash and marketing support, Pickett said. 

Another sponsor for the event is the Greater New Haven Green Fund which has been providing funding for the event since 2016, according to the president of the GNH Green Fund, Lynne Bonnett. Bonnett said that the funds raised from the event can be especially helpful for small environmental organizations.

“It is very hard for small grassroots organizations to get grant money for their projects,” Bonnett said in an email to the News. “The impact can be huge for many small organizations that operate on shoestring budgets.” 

Other partner organizations also include the Connecticut Mental Health Center Foundation, Junta for Progressive Action, Solar Youth, Common Ground and Gather New Haven. In 2019, the event raised over $227,000 in total from over 1,200 riders while last year’s online event raised $137,000 from 378 participants.

Ward 7 Alder Abby Roth of Downtown has long participated in Rock to Rock, typically completing the 40-mile bike ride. The event, she says, is an important step in carrying out the Board of Alders’ newly-passed legislative agenda, which includes a commitment to improve environmental justice and quality.

“It’s a great community-building event. It’s an opportunity to both build community and really be helping environmental groups,” Roth said. “Nonprofits play such a strong role in our city and in helping support environmental efforts.”

Over the last 12 years, Rock to Rock has raised more $1.9 million for local environmental groups.

Sylvan Lebrun | sylvan.lebrun@yale.edu

Sai Rayala | sai.rayala@yale.edu

Isaac Yu | isaac.yu@yale.edu

SYLVAN LEBRUN
Sylvan Lebrun reports on City Hall. She previously covered nonprofits and social services in the New Haven area. She is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College majoring in English.
SAI RAYALA
Sai Rayala reports on Yale-New Haven relations. She previously covered climate and environmental efforts in New Haven. Originally from Powell, Ohio, she is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College majoring in History.
ISAAC YU
Isaac Yu writes about Yale's faculty and academics. He is a production and design editor for the News, runs the News' Instagram page and previously covered transportation and urban planning in New Haven. Hailing from Garland, Texas, he is a Berkeley College sophomore majoring in Urban Studies.