Best News on Two Wheels
The latest dirt on area trail news and in-person bike races and events
By Ross Boissoneau | July 24, 2021
After a year in which the world closed and/or went virtual, in-person biking events are again a thing. That means that it’s time for people to pedal to get the medal. Or at least enjoy one another’s camaraderie on area trails.
More and more are doing so. Of the many trail associations and bike shops we talked to, one conclusion is universal: There has never been more interest in biking. The trails are busy, sales and rentals are brisk, and there’s no slowdown in sight. “We’re trying to keep up,” says Nick Wierzba, owner of Suttons Bay Bikes. “Everything seems to be hot. More people are sharing the joy of riding.”
Here is a brief rundown of some of the events, activities, and trail updates around the region. The various trail and bike organizations offer a wealth of information online, as do the trails organizations and conservancies. For information and/or additional maps of trails, go to www.michigantrailmaps.com.
Benzie Sunrise Rotary Bike Fest
Last year the pandemic caused a pause in the event, but more than 180 cyclists participated in Benzie Sunrise Rotary Club’s Pandemic Pedal, either riding close to home in Michigan or joining the fun from places like Norway, Australia, and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina. This year the local group is present its 13th annual Up North Bike Fest live and in person on Saturday, Aug. 21, at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville.
Because the festival incorporates so many different cycling options and distances, the Thompsonville event is still expected to draw participants from across the country and beyond, says Event Director Bill Kennis: While most of the participants hail from the Midwest, "a global population summers here,” he says.
The options: For those who want to explore the rolling scenic highways and byways of Benzie and Manistee counties, there are the Tour de Pie road-bike tours of 30, 45, and 62 miles. Those who want to experience the thrill of racing as a team can opt for the men’s and women’s Team Time Trial of 45 miles. New this year is the Gonzo Gravel men’s and women’s gravel races, with a choice of 20 or 36 miles. “It’s really cool for [everyone from] first-time families to uber-competitive [racers]. Plus,” says Kennis, “we have one of the best finish line parties” — including hand-made ceramic medals for the winners.
Cherry Capital Cruiser Rides
For those who want to enjoy the feel of the wind rushing through their hair helmet but aren’t sure they are ready for lengthy, fast-paced riding, a Cherry Capital Cruiser ride could be just the ticket. The group is an offshoot of the SheBikes program, a female-only project that runs in early summer that’s meant to introduce (or re-introduce) girls and women to bike riding without any pressure, allowing them to ride at their own pace and distance. Linda Deneen says the SheBikes program will return next year, but the Cruiser Rides are open to anyone now. Simply go to the Cherry Capital Cycling Club website (www.cherrycapitalcyclingclub.org) and go to Rides/Events and look for the Cruiser Rides.
Little Traverse Wheelway
Brent Bolin, executive director at Top of Michigan Trails Council, tells Northern Express that the section of trail in Charlevoix County that was washed out due to high water has been repaired and is now reopened. The large washout between Bay Harbor and Petoskey, however, remains closed. An alternate route along US-31 has been proposed, but some residents and city officials — including, most recently, Petoskey Mayor John Murphy — are advocating for the restoration of the original trail, an effort estimated to cost around $10 million. Bolin says the best and most likely solution for that section of the 26-mile trail is to proceed with both options, providing connections for both the east and west sides of that section of trail in Resort Township.
Leelanau County is looking to add to its appeal with projects at a couple parks. Cody Spratmoran, co-founder of Bike Leelanau, says the organization has worked with Leland Township at Provemont Pond Recreational Area (south of the intersection of County Road 645 and S. Popp Rd.), to add another mile to the existing mile of a family friendly mountain bike trail, the first of three additional miles. She’s hopeful work will start on the other two miles this fall, or spring 2022 if it doesn’t happen yet this year.
“We are passionate about building trails near community centers. Provemont Pond is just outside town. It’s an amazing natural area,” she says.
Another project coming is the installation of a pump track at Herman Park in Suttons Bay. Sprattmoran says it will be a great place to practice and enhance skills for riders of all ages. It’s a prefabricated structure and will be the first of its kind in the area. “It’s prefabricated and expandable, so we can add to it or move it to different places. We’d love to install it this fall, depending on funding.”
Claire Wood of the Leelanau Conservancy says eight miles of new trails at Palmer Woods Forest Reserve in Maple City will more than double the current trails there. She says they’ve been building trails there since 2017, and with over 1,000 acres available there is an opportunity for many more.
Brian Beauchamp tells Northern Express that the campaign to raise $75,000 for a matching grant to complete the TART Trail's Acme Connector is on track to realize its goal. (That means the planned celebration at Stone Hound Brewing Company in Acme is on for 4pm–6pm Tuesday, July 27.) At the time of publication, the organization has raised $51,016 for the 1.8-mile connector from Bunker Hill Road terminus to M-71/31 in Acme. The $75,000 will be doubled through a matching challenge provided by the Oleson Foundation, Tri-County Bicycle Association–DALMAC Fund, and Aspire North Realtors.
Beauchamp says, assuming the funding goal is reached, the hope is to start work on the trail before the snow flies this winter. He says the quick progress is indicative of the region’s increased interest in biking. “The upward trend we saw last year has continued to this year,” he says. “It’s encouraging positive experiences for everybody.”
When completed, the Acme Connector will include asphalt and boardwalk trail segments, shared road segments, a bridge, landscaping, signage, and trailside amenities such as benches and bike racks.
Double Dog Dare You
The newest addition to the Boyne Forest Trail has opened. The easiest access to the 2½ mile Double Dog loop is from the brand new 60-space parking lot on Old Horton Bay Rd. The trail, located on what used to be a landfill and some other undeveloped hilly forest property owned by Boyne City, connects to the existing 15 miles in the trail system. Steve Schnell, a board member at Top of Michigan Mountain Bike Association, says the trail is a good bet for all levels of riders.
The Top of Michigan Mountain Bike Association is hosting a Pedal, Pig & Pint Ride Aug. 1, a fundraiser for Raven Hill Discovery Center and TOMMBA. Participants can choose from wooded mountain bike trails or a scenic, paved 42-mile route around Lake Charlevoix. All riders will start at Veterans Memorial Park in Boyne City and finish with a celebratory lunch at Stiggs Brewing Company. For more information, go to www.tommba.org and click on the News tab.
Michele Andrews, a board member of the Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association for the Cadillac area, says there have been major improvements to the Cadillac Pathway trailhead, including a pavilion with picnic tables and a fireplace, a bike/ski rack, the installation of solar lights, and a bike fix-it station. The Cadillac Pathway is a multi-use, non-motorized recreation trail open for users year-round. The Pathway is on state-owned lands managed by the DNR.
The organization’s September 25 Bear Claw Epic (pictured above) fundraiser will provide funding for the additional improvements along Seeley Road. Andrews says the goal for this year is five miles on the east side, with six miles on the west to follow. The organization is applying for a DNR Trust Fund Grant for the latter, while funding for the east side is coming from the Bear Claw Epic, Cadillac Rotary, and other sources.
Betsie Valley Trail
Jim Gribble of the Betsie Valley Trail, says the resurfacing project along Crystal Lake has been completed. The hard-packed limestone surface was funded by a $150,000 DNR Recreation Passport Grant.
The organization’s newest priority is from Beulah to Thompsonville. “That part has never gotten attention,” he says. The organization envisions it as part of a Thompsonville revitalization project, eventually connecting with the TART Trail from Interlochen to Thompsonville. “The railway right of way is already there,” says Gribble, noting that Thompsonville used to be the hub of two major rail lines.