First Biking To Faculty. Now Holland, Ludington, And Beyond

After a big year of growth, Norte – Traverse City’s youth cycling and pro-bike advocacy group – is launching a new initiative to help other communities in Michigan grow or establish similar programs. So far, Norte has worked with a group in Holland to develop youth cycling in this area and is in talks with community members in Bellaire, Ludington, Elk Rapids and elsewhere to provide similar advisory services.

Although Norte was officially organized as a not-for-profit in 2013, Norte’s roots go back even further to 2006. That year, the organization’s eventual co-founders – married couple Ty and Joanna Schmidt – moved from Tucson to Traverse City, enrolling their eldest son at a local elementary school a. Affected by the long line of cars queuing in front of the school building every morning, the Schmidts began taking their son to school by bike. Soon children from the neighborhood accompanied the Schmidt family on their daily school trips, with more than a dozen children regularly taking part in “bicycle trains”. Eventually the school’s teachers and principals got on and cycling to school became popular with many students.

Norte has grown in recent years, moving from simple bikes to school, to building summer camps for teen cyclists, a community bike library, the state’s largest youth mountain bike team, and lobbying for Traverse City. friendly. Despite the pandemic, according to Executive Director Ty Schmidt, 2020 actually turned out to be the biggest year yet.

“In 2020 we had the largest number of children ever reached as an organization,” says Schmidt, and attributes the success to the “good decisions and contingency plans” that were made at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. “It was about taking groups of children outside, distancing themselves, exploring their city, making new friends and learning new skills. We were one of the few camps that ran last summer and we had 650 children [that program], which was doubled from 2019. “

Nationwide, COVID-19 generated increased interest in all types of outdoor recreational activities, including cycling. According to research firm NPD Group, sales of recreational bicycles for adults rose 121 percent last spring year over year, while sales of children’s bicycles rose 59 percent. The additional interest came when Norte was navigating a great summer, lending 69 bikes to 56 different families through the Traverse City and Elk Rapids bike libraries, and counting 277 participants for the youth mountain bike team in the fall. In 2021, too, it will not slow down: According to Schmidt, Norte has “registered 300 children from six counties for the Spring mountain bike team, another 200 are on the waiting list.”

These large numbers on site, combined with what Schmidt called the “luxury of the time” during the pandemic, prompted Norte to start his new advisory program.

“For some reason we got so many calls over the years,” How can we start something like Norte in our city? “, Schmidt tells The Ticker.” I don’t know if people found us on Google or what, but we never really tracked it. During the pandemic, people kept calling and asking about it, and I thought one of Norte’s goal is to be self-sufficient: to be less dependent on grants or donations; more of an organization that can generate some income to support its mission. So we said, “Well, I think we’re in now a position in which we have learned enough [to share our knowledge]. ‘And I don’t see it just as a financial reason; I really think so [consulting] helps extend Norte’s influence to the entire state, not just here in northern Michigan. “

According to Schmidt, the inquiries have so far been received across the board, from cities looking to replicate Norte’s Kids-on-Bikes program to cities looking to mimick the organization’s community services side – be it to start a bike library or Start advocacy programs to advertise more drivable cities.

“We worked with Jenny White in Holland, Michigan, and helped them start a summer bike camp for their Dutch children and expand their youth mountain bike team,” says Schmidt. “I just got off the phone with a PE teacher from Ludington and a PE teacher from Bellaire Public Schools. We are working with some citizens 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 the aim of “getting all children on bikes” and “promoting and maintaining a healthy, active outdoor lifestyle while teaching cycling skills, safety and responsibility”. White tells The Ticker that she “has always admired Norte’s work” and describes the organization’s impact on children and families in northern Michigan as “inspiring and contagious.” This admiration eventually led to a partnership.

“We started Velo Kids as a small group back in 2017, and as the community grew rapidly, we knew it would be good to find an organization like Norte that ideas could be derived from,” says White. “Ty has been such a help as we expanded our program … his advice and support has been great – from insurance issues to strategic planning and hiring coaches to curriculum development. We are very grateful and look forward to this partnership in the future. “

White already believes Norte’s advice is paying off.

“Due to the demand, we already had to add camp sessions and quickly got our Junior Velo Mountain Bike Club cap,” she says. “I attribute much of this to Ty’s support and help with our program development.”

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

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