Before Kerry Stamey died seven Aprils ago, he didn’t wish for a funeral.
Instead, he wanted his buddies to go ride their mountain bikes.
In his memory, they gathered for a service at a church on Hooper Road, then mounted their bikes for a ride on the off-road trails at Comite River Park, a course that Stamey worked so hard to build.
“He wanted people to be happy,” said his widow, Dianne Taylor, “and people are happy on trails.”
Every April since his death, dozens of mountain bikers — some of Stamey’s friends and many mountain bikers who never met him — gather at the Comite River Park, where the trails are now named for him. They ride bikes, cook burgers and remember Stamey.
One of the founders of the Baton Rouge Area Mountain Bike Association in 1992, Stamey worked with BREC, East Baton Rouge Parish’s parks and recreation commission, to set aside land for mountain bike trails as the sport grew in popularity.
A camera repairman by trade, he wrote grant applications and organized trail building and maintenance days that built the paths cyclists use now at Hooper Road Park and Comite River Park.
“He worked his tail off on this every time he got a chance,” said his father, D.J. Stamey.
Stamey died of cancer in his mid-50s, leaving the trails and a trove of heartbroken friends and riding partners.
On Sunday, April 21, the riders, wearing helmets and jerseys emblazoned with logos, left smoking grills and picnic tables at the park’s entrance to take a slow jaunt along the narrow ribbon of trail cut into the woods. It was cool and sunny as the group of two dozen riders pedaled up short, steep hills and curved through the banked turns built into the course.
After a few minutes, they left the main path to take a left turn down to the Comite River to a pure white sandbar where Stamey’s ashes were spread after his death.
They removed their helmets as friends of Stamey shared their memories. Taylor remembered Stamey riding his bike after a long day at work and sharing his enthusiasm for the outdoors.
“He found his peace here,” she said.
After a moment of silence, they pushed their bikes back up the hill to the main trail and finished a lap around the five-and-a-half-mile trail.
In the early 1990s, when mountain biking surged in popularity in the United States, off-road cyclists in the Baton Rouge area often traveled to Mississippi to ride. Some unofficial trails developed on land around Hooper Road Park in north Baton Rouge, said Burns Decker, the cycling manager for BREC and an Advocate employee, and riders cut some trails on land within the Mississippi River levee.
Stamey worked with a few friends to get dedicated mountain bike trails at Hooper Road Park, and they officially opened in 1992. Another BREC property became the Comite River Park bicycle trails in 1996. Hooper Road has six miles of trail, while Comite has more than five.
Another trail connects the two parks.
While he loved the sport, Stamey was never the fastest rider. He was not terribly athletic growing up, said his mother, Faye Stamey.
“This is a guy who was mister clean,” she said. “Kerry did not like to be dirty. I could not believe he would mountain bike.”
Stamey loved photography, too, and was talented, Faye Stamey said. He repaired cameras at Southern Camera Service in Baton Rouge and briefly owned his own business. His interest in photography led him to notice things in nature differently than others, Taylor said.
When she began riding, Taylor said Stamey gave her important advice. Friends had been telling her to change her approach and ride differently.
“And Kerry’s advice was ‘Ride your own ride,’” she said. “That was the best advice. You don’t have to keep up with anybody. You don’t have to do something difficult because they did it. Just ride your own ride.”
As a teenager, Stamey had fought melanoma after finding a spot on his wrist, Taylor said.
The cancer re-emerged decades later in 2004, she said, and he died in 2006.
During the memorial group ride, the air smelled of honeysuckle, and beneath the bright green canopy of oaks and pines, the forest’s undergrowth had benefitted from spring rains, with heavy foliage crowding the single track of dirt that bike tires followed.
A few weeks before, Robin Diamond, the BRAMBA group ride coordinator and a friend of Stamey’s, had snapped photos of white wild roses growing along the trail and posted them on the group’s Facebook page to remind riders what Stamey had once taught her — slow down every once in a while and look at the surrounding beauty.
“You’re really seeing the trail sometimes for the first time,” she said. “When you’re speeding by, you don’t notice the wildlife out there.”
Throughout the afternoon, the mountain bikers and Stamey’s family hung around the park, eating and laughing. Cyclists would ride a lap through the trail and come back with mud-spattered legs to eat a cookie or burger, rest a few minutes and do it again, a fitting tribute for Stamey, his friends said.
“He was so enthusiastic about mountain bike riding,” Taylor said. “It just soothed his soul.”