After the first North Fork Soldier Ride last fall, a ride intended to raise funds to help wounded soldiers regain mobility, organizers decided their energy might be better spent on another charity event called Ride2Recovery.
But this week, the group abruptly canceled that ride, after learning that regional Soldier Ride organizers based in Amagansett had already received permission from Southold Town to hold their own event next month.
Laurel resident Dennis O’Donnell, the father of a soldier and one of the key organizers of last year’s North Fork event, said this week that representatives from the Wounded Warrior Project, which sponsors Soldier Ride, did not return his phone calls all winter. That prompted the decision to have this year’s ride benefit Ride2Recovery, which he said has a better track record of providing services directly to veterans.
Mr. O’Donnell also said that North Fork volunteers did all the work for last year’s Soldier Ride without any backup support from the parent organization.
He applied to the town earlier this spring to organize a bike ride for Ride2Recovery on Oct. 2. But when Amagansett Soldier Ride organizers learned of Mr. O’Donnell’s plans this spring, they quickly filed a request with Southold and Greenport authorities to hold their own event on June 25. That event was approved unanimously by the Southold Town Board on May 10.
Mr. O’Donnell, whose event was to come before the Town Board during its Tuesday meeting, pulled the plug on the Ride2Recovery ride Thursday morning, citing the confusion among North Fork residents over the different charity rides.
“What we’ve learned, as we reach out to the community, is that there’s a lot of confusion and tension over what’s happening because of the two rides,” said Mr. O’Donnell. “We were told what happened is the Wounded Warrior Project, upon learning that we were not doing the ride for them, rushed to the board directly, got a special hearing at the town and got their permits. Everyone at the town is kind of confused. People are saying, ‘We thought we just approved you.’ I understand how it could be confusing. They got a jump on it, and it’s leaving people confused and conflicted. That’s not what we got in this for. We don’t want any conflict. It’s supposed to be a joyous event.”
Soldier Ride organizer Nick Kraus said two rides would only help the cause of generating awareness and support for wounded veterans. He added that many wounded veterans participate in events for both Soldier Ride and Ride2Recovery.
“It’s all about them getting better,” he said. “The more activities and rehabilitation programs they can participate in, the better.”
The June 25 Soldier Ride will begin with an opening ceremony at 9 a.m. at Mitchell Park in Greenport, followed by a 30-mile bicycle ride to Mattituck and back, a five-kilometer walk and a barbecue for participants at the Greenport fairgrounds.
“We’re excited to be back on the North Fork. We have a great weekend planned,” said Mr. Kraus.
On Friday, after Mr. O’Donnell called off his event, Mr. Kraus reiterated his support for two rides.
“We were going to do our ride in the fall, and we purposely did it with some space in between because we were trying to avoid confusion by doing it in June,” he said.
But Mr. O’Donnell wasn’t feeling the love.
“I’m the parent of a soldier and this bothers me,” he said. “They walked in through the side door and pulled strings. I really don’t appreciate it. That’s demonstrated by the idea that they would undercut a fundraising event in a neighborhood that they never set foot in.”
He said that the North Fork organizers may consider taking their event to Riverhead or Brookhaven after the dust settles.
For more information and to register for the June 25 Soldier Ride, go to www.soldierride.org/northfork.