First bike to school. Now Holland, Ludington and beyond

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After a year of major growth, Norte – Traverse City’s youth and pro-cyclist advocacy organization – is launching a new initiative to help other Michigan communities grow or set up similar programs. So far, Norte has worked with a group in Holland to develop youth cycling in that region and is in talks with community members from Bellaire, Ludington, Elk Rapids and elsewhere to offer similar advisory services.

Although it was officially organized as a non-profit organization in 2013, Norte’s roots go back further than that, to 2006. That year, the eventual co-founders of the organization – husband and wife team Ty and Joanna Schmidt – moved to Traverse City from Tucson and enrolled their oldest son in a local elementary school. Struck by the long line of cars lining up in front of the school building every morning, the Schmidts began to escort their son to school by bicycle. Soon the neighborhood children were joining the Schmidt family on their daily commutes to school, with “bicycle trains” of a dozen children regularly involved. Eventually, the teachers and the school principal got on board, and the bicycle to school became popular for many students.

Norte has grown over the years, going beyond simple bike-school trains to building summer cycling camps for young people, a community bike library, the largest youth mountain bike team in the world. ‘State and advocacy efforts to make Traverse City more bike-friendly. Despite the pandemic, executive director Ty Schmidt said 2020 turned out to be his biggest year yet.

“We have reached our highest number of children, ever as an organization, in 2020,” Schmidt says, attributing the success to the “right decisions and contingency plans” made at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown. “It was about getting groups of children out, distance themselves, exploring their city, making new friends, learning new skills. We were one of the very few camps to operate last summer and we welcomed 650 children. [that program], which was doubled compared to 2019. “

Across the country, COVID-19 has caused spikes in interest in all types of outdoor recreation activities, including cycling. According to research firm NPD Group, sales of adult recreational bikes last spring increased 121% year-over-year, while sales of children’s bikes rose 59%. Additional interest struck locally, as Norte got through a great summer, loaned 69 bikes to 56 different families through its Traverse City and Elk Rapids bike libraries, and had 277 participants for its bike team from mountain for young people in the fall. Things aren’t slowing down in 2021 either: Schmidt says Norte has “300 kids from six counties signed up for the Spring Mountain Bike Team, with 200 more on the waiting list.”

Those big numbers at the local level, combined with what Schmidt calls “a luxury of time” during the pandemic, prompted Norte to launch her new counseling program.

“For some reason or another we got so many calls over the years, ‘How do we start something like Norte in our town? “, Says Schmidt The Ticker. “I don’t know if people found us on Google or what, but we never really searched. Then during the pandemic people kept calling and asking about it, and I thought, well, one of Norte’s goals was to become more self-reliant: less dependent on grants. or donations; more an organization that can generate earned income to support its mission. So we said, ‘Well I think we are now in a position where we have learned enough [to share our knowledge]”. And I don’t see this as just a financial reason; I really think that [consulting] helps expand Norte’s impact statewide, not just here in northern Michigan. “

So far, Schmidt said inquiries have spread to everything from towns looking to replicate Norte’s children’s cycling programming to towns looking to mimic the community services side of the organization – qu ‘this is creating a bicycle library or launching advocacy programs to promote more bicycle-friendly cities.

“We worked with Jenny White in the Netherlands, Michigan, and helped them start a summer bike camp for their kids in Holland, as well as develop their mountain bike youth team,” explains Schmidt. “I just called a physical education teacher in Ludington and a physical education teacher in Bellaire public schools. We are working with some citizens currently in Elk Rapids, to start an advocacy program. So there are ways for us to help ordinary people improve their communities, and I find that very exciting.

Jenny White runs Velo Kids in Holland, a program similar to Norte with a mission to “get all children to ride bikes” and “promote and cultivate healthy, active and outdoor lifestyles while teaching skills. , bicycle safety and stewardship ”. White tells The ticker she “always admired Norte’s work,” calling the organization’s impact on children and families in northern Michigan “inspiring and infectious.” Ultimately, this admiration led to a partnership.

“We started Velo Kids as a small group in 2017, and as the community grew rapidly, we knew it would be good to find an organization like Norte to bounce ideas off of,” White says. “Ty has been such a help that we have expanded our program… his advice and assistance has been tremendous – from insurance matters, to strategic plans and hiring coaches, to program development. We are very grateful and look forward to this partnership in the future. “

Already, White believes that Norte’s advice is paying off.

“Due to demand we already had to add camp sessions and also quickly hit our junior mountain bike club cap,” she says. “I attribute a lot of this to Ty’s help and his help in developing our program.”

“When Norte started, we did exactly the same,” notes Schmidt. “We looked across the country for other programs. Nothing Norte does is unique or special, to be honest; we arrived at the right time, with the right message. We’ve made so many mistakes over the past eight years, but we’ve also learned a lot, through experimentation, testing and mistakes. And we now have the capacity and the resources to share this learning. “



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