Adapted from an interview with Dakota Parks
"I grew up in South Florida and moved to Pensacola about four years ago after I graduated from the University of Michigan with my bachelor’s degree in environmental science. I was a collegiate swimmer and started commuting to the pool and to my classes on a hybrid bike. Once my swimming career was over, I was looking for something to fill my free time and Pensacola’s running and biking community welcomed me with open arms. Currently, I’m working on my master’s in business administration at the University of West Florida and I’m the Chief Operating Officer with the Downtown Improvement Board (DIB), helping manage the Palafox Market, as well as a board member and social media manager for Bike Pensacola.
I use my bike to go everywhere—commute to work, ride to breweries, grab groceries, and go to the Palafox Market every weekend. I even started taking my dog, Mo, with me on the bike in a backpack to ride over the Pensacola Bay Bridge on the new pedestrian pathway to Pensacola Beach or Navarre and back. She just sticks her head out of the backpack and loves seeing the birds and feeling the breeze. I also love spending that time with her and taking her on adventures with me. Biking has allowed me to connect with this incredible community that I never would have met if I wasn’t on my bike. I’ve gained so many friendships from this lifestyle.
In addition to using my bike to go everywhere, I also cycle competitively as a triathlete with the Zarzaur Law Triathlon Team. There are two triathlons locally, the Pensacola triathlon and the Santa Rosa triathlon—which are both a 600-yard swim, 15-mile bike ride, and a 5k run. Our team actually won the last Santa Rosa triathlon for best overall female team, and I won for my age group. It’s a really great community to be active in and a great way to live a healthy lifestyle. When I’m training, I’ll do around a 100-mile bike ride all across town. Not only does our team train together for triathlons, but we also volunteer at events like Gallery Night and the Dragon Boat Festival to raise money for local organizations like the Gulf Coast Kid's House. I also attend Bike Pensacola’s slow rides every month, which is a great way to get people on a bike and educate people about bike safety.
I’m lucky that I live very close to where I work, and it’s quicker to get to work on a bike than driving a car. We also have really safe streets and a lot of great infrastructure in Pensacola for bike riding, and I’m excited about some of the projects the city and other groups are currently working on. With my environmental science background, I really appreciate sustainability and promoting that aspect within my lifestyle. Biking has really made me appreciate the outdoors and using my body every day, which is something I almost took for granted as a swimmer, because I swam for five to six hours a day. I want to be able to share that love for biking with the community.
I definitely think we need more bike lanes and infrastructure changes to make the streets even safer for biking, but there are a lot of small amenities and projects we can add that make biking easier, like bike corrals. With the help of Christian Wagley, Zac Lane, and Bike Pensacola, we were able to install a bike corral at MLK Plaza for cyclists to use when they visit Palafox Market. We kept seeing a lot of people coming through the market without a place to put their bikes, so they were tying them to lampposts or walking through the market with them, which isn’t always safe with dogs and strollers trying to get past. Now they have somewhere to store their bikes while they shop downtown. For me, the work that I do with both Palafox Market and Bike Pensacola is about getting people out into the community and encouraging younger people to start biking. Being involved with both gives me a lot of ability to make positive changes downtown and to help people realize that biking is awesome. I just want people to see how much fun it is to ride your bike to the market or brewery or to a concert at the Vinyl without dealing with the parking hassle. I’m excited for the future of Pensacola and to see so much change."