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The Gold Coast Trail

Robert Downes - October 3rd, 2007
Great Britain has an idea that could be a good fit for Northern Michigan. It’s called Sustrans, which is short for “Sustainable Transportation.” It’s a charity which “works on practical projects to help reduce motor traffic.”
Sustrans has established a 5,000-mile National Cycle Network of trails that criss-cross England, Wales and Scotland. Bike-friendly routes such as the C2C Trail in northern England and the Reivers Route along the border of Scotland attract tens of thousands of cycle tourers every summer from all over Europe, and even overseas.
“Our vision is a world in which people can choose to travel in ways that benefit their health and the environment,” the organization claims. That means inspiring people to ride bikes or walk when possible. Sustrans also tries to create traffic-calmed streets, traffic-free routes in cities, and a Safe Routes to School program that makes it easier for kids to get to school on their own power, not on a bus.
Sustrans makes money by selling maps and guidebooks for the trails of the Cycle Network, and by contributions from 40,000 “Supporters.” The charity got started in 1977 to deal with the energy crunch of that time. A national lottery payout of around $100 million got the Cycle Network started, and it’s also funded by grants and landfill tax credits.
Needless to say, bike routes such as the C2C Trail are a bonanza for the small towns along the way, with the trail running from coast to coast. Those benefiting include B&Bs, restaurants, hotels, shops, tourist traps -- everything we also have here in Northern Michigan.
Riding an old mountain bike across England in mid-September, I found the C2C Trail to be traffic-free, with lush scenery out of a fairy tale. Around every corner you expect to see a knight in armor or some of Robin Hood‘s men. Mostly, of course, its just sheep, chewing their gum skeptically as you pedal by. And later on, some very long, hard grinds up Britain‘s highest mountains – the Pennines– and across the foggy, windswept moors to the Atlantic.
In Northern Michigan, we already have the infrastructure for a similar Cycle Network. All it needs is proper marketing, along the lines of what Sustrans has done in Britain.
Imagine a Gold Coast Trail from Manistee to the Straits of Mackinac, woven from the trail systems of Benzie County, Traverse City and Petoskey. It could connect to the new trail established last summer from Gaylord to the Bridge. Or imagine a White Pine Route from Grand Rapids through Cadillac and on up the coast.
Now, imagine thousands of cyclists from all over the country – and even overseas – coming to Northern Michigan, just as they do for the trails of Britain. Special bike transport services would develop (as is the case in Britain) and hotels and restaurants along the way would enjoy a boom with cyclists passing by on our safe, traffic-free bike paths.
Of course, we don’t have the dreamy Lake District of England here, where the poet Wordsworth “wandered lonely as a cloud.” And we don’t have ancient castles around every corner, not to mention Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans to keep out the savage Scots. And there’s little in the way of crumpets or Yorkshire pudding in Northern Michigan, as is the case in England (but perhaps we could do without those bits).
But we do have spectacular sand dunes, a doozy of a bridge, charming towns, Indian and logging lore, Longfellow‘s
“Hiawatha,” and some of the best cycling in the Midwest. All we really lack is a grandiose name for our trail network, a guidebook and an invite to the cyclists of America.
If you build it, they will come.
For more on Sustran and biking in
Britain, check out www.sustrans.org.uk.

Robert Downes is on an extended trip around the world. Look for more foreign dispatches in upcoming Random Thoughts.
 
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