Walking and Talking With Lee Elston
Although we’re recognized for our work getting kids on bikes, Norte is a firm believer in the power of walking. When we walk, we take critical steps towards both individual health and community health. When we walk, we see things differently within ourselves and in the community around us. Recently, I walked with someone who embodies the commitment to walking to stay active and connected.
Lee Elston walks 120 miles a month, mainly with her neighbors, friends, and, occasionally, new folks who come along like me. We walked a two-lapper at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center. At a healthy 3.6 mph pace, we walked and talked about winter, health, Blue Zones, community, and tango.
“I’ve been walking for nine months. I go every day. Now my friend wants me to walk with her once a week. It has really brought on a lot of walking, talking with my friends,” said Lee. “If you’re on a treadmill, you’re just by yourself, and that’s just more isolation.”
From the sounds of it, Lee is anything but isolated. From volunteering at Interlochen Arts Academy, teaching part-time at Northwestern Michigan College, and participating in the local tango scene, she’s regularly out there in the community. “If your community is where you gather, my community is on the tango dance floor,” she said.
Unfortunately, many of her community connections aren’t up and running during the pandemic, including dance. Last May, Lee realized she needed something to keep her active and connected to a community. Thinking it was odd that none of her neighbors knew each other, she asked a neighbor if she could join her walk one day. As they walked more, their circle of friends grew. “Then we started meeting people and walking, and we started connecting with people. We now know the neighborhood,” she said.
Lee believes in the power of walking side by side. It provides an opportunity to discuss each other’s lives and check-in with each other. It brings people together, even if they are quite different in many ways. Walking together with her neighbors, she’s discovering commonalities. For Lee, that’s adding intentionality in her life that aligns with the communal benefits she sees in the Blue Zones concept.
Blue Zones are regions where people tend to live much longer and be much healthier than people in other places in the world. In addition to moderate, regular exercise, community engagement is a common trait of Blue Zones. After 30 years as a nurse at Munson, when Lee retired, she found herself asking how she can do more to connect with her neighbors.
“I’m into communal living, where people can take care of each other as they age,” offered Lee. “It’s a way to combat loneliness.”
She’s also into winter walking, out in the cold and snow. Lee moved to Northern Michigan from Miami Beach for a job at Munson. After a rough first year settling in, learning what a snowmobile is and how to make a fire, Lee is now happy putting on her boots for a winter walk.
“I don’t like hot weather. This is my jam right here. There’s nothing wrong with this weather,” she said as we walked into a slight breeze at the Civic Center. “You just have to get out. Yeah, it is cold. But I don’t feel cold.”
Lee recently was inspired by an interview with neurosurgeon and author Sanjay Gupta. He’s making the rounds interviewing for his latest book, Keep Sharp: How To Build a Better Brain at Any Age.
“What is good for your heart is good for your brain. So what we are doing now, exercising, it’s also good for your brain,” she said, paraphrasing Gupta. “I think these are going to be my words for a little bit. If you’re doing something good for your heart, your brain is definitely going to benefit.”
“Us oldsters are concerned about our brains. Nobody wants to get Alzheimer’s or dementia.”
Lee’s has advice for people who think of walking as a chore: start with small goals and gradually increase your distance and pace. “I try to take the task out of it. I want walking to be enjoyable. I think when you walk with someone, it takes the task out of it,” said Lee.
That’s something Norte can get behind—walking together and keeping it fun, like Lee.
Let us know who you’re walking with this winter, on Winter Walk Wednesdays, or any other day. If you’re looking for someone to match your strides, consider inviting someone at Norte. Our staff is ready. Reach out. Let’s walk together—safely and responsibly, of course.
Happy. Healthy. Strong.
#GivingTuesday, Meet #ThankyouWednesday
Few things are certain in 2020, but one thing remains constant—#GivingTuesday begets #ThankyouWednesday. I have a few thank yous to mention from yesterday.
Thank you to Goodwill Northern Michigan for hosting us at Carson Square for our first Norte TuneUp. Jen Patten and Rachel McGinley greeted us with open arms and set Team Orange and residents up with hot chili, coffee, and hot chocolate all afternoon. Dan Buron and his team made it easy and allowed us to focus on fixing bikes.
Thank you to the residents of Carson Square. Program Director Ben and I were still emptying the van and setting up the first tent when Craig rolled in on an old Schwinn Collegiate three-speed. It no longer suited him, so we set him up with a step-through that’s a little easier. The community’s self-proclaimed “Mama Bear” quickly followed to inquire what we were up to with all these tents and tools. Told that we were there to fix up some bikes for Carson Square residents, she immediately set out to gather up bikes belonging to families with children.
Throughout the day, people dropped by with bikes in need of some love or simply say hello. A few were thrilled to hear that yes, the extra bikes we’d brought were free to people who needed them. “If it fits and you can use it, ride it away.”
Thank you to Team Orange’s volunteer bike mechanics. Ben put out the call, and Bob, Dan, Paul, Yarro, Pepe, and, the legend himself, Don Cunkle of Recycle-a-Bicycle, answered it for the first Norte TuneUp. All told, the crew fixed-up 16 bicycles and gave away eight used bikes in need of a home. We lost count of the number of thank yous from appreciative riders. Hearing “this rides like new” was music to our ears!
Thank you to yesterday’s generous donors. We had a goal of $2500 for the annual day of generosity, and 43 of you shot us past that goal. Thank you to everyone who helped us raise $3,056 on #GivingTuesday. Donations will help us hold additional Norte TuneUps in 2021.
Norte’s end of the year appeal continues, and your end-of-year gift will ensure that we can deliver programs and initiatives to build happy, healthy, strong communities across Northern Michigan—for everyone. Please consider Norte in your 2021 end-of-the-year gifts.
Onward and upward.
Gary Howe, Advocacy Director
P.S. Thank you also to local bike shops (Brick Wheels, Einstein Cycles, City Bike Shop, McLain Cycle and Fitness).
Thank you again to the volunteer mechanics: Shown above, left to right, top to bottom: Don Cunkle, Bob Davidson, Yarro Ireland (and helper, Makaio), and Dan Curnayn. Not shown, Paul Dayo, Pepe Sanz-Perez, and, of course, Ben Boyce.
20 Reasons We’re Thankful
2020 certainly has had its trepidation, apprehension, and sadness. Yet, here we are, the day before Thanksgiving, full of gratitude. It’s wondrous how hard times grant us a perspective to take stock and count our fortunes. We have many of them here at Norte and in Northern Michigan. There are too many to list, but here are 20 reasons, in no particular order, why Team Orange is grateful for this year:
- Our energetic and loving volunteers
- Gorgeous new sidewalks in Traverse Heights
- Citizen Advocates and School Champions–people who stand up, speak up and work on behalf of better neighborhoods
- Otwell Hub members – an expanding crew
- Youth leaders and young explorers
- Norte’s resourceful and enthusiastic Board of Directors
- Sidewalk chalk art in support of nurses and public health officials
- Making new friends, finding adventure, and counting smiles at Summer Bike Camp–even with orange masks, we see you smiling
- Norte’s astute, responsive, and reassuring COVID-19 Task Force
- Everyone who cleaned out the garage and gave a bike to Essential Grand Traverse
- The new 3 Mile Trail partnership
- Michigan’s largest youth mountain bike team–nearly 300 mountain bike families
- Our marvelous and supportive Business Champions
- Bike library expansions
- Dedicated citizens supporting the $2M Safe Routes To School grant
- All of our donors, including the unwavering monthly members in el Colectivo
- Our devoted and steadfast Community Partners
- Northern Michigan’s beautifully managed public spaces – places like Maplehurst, Palmer Woods, Glacial Hills, and Lake Dubonnet
- Our local bike shops–thank you for wrenching and your generosity
- Norte’s skilled and resourceful staff
We could go on and on. The Grand Traverse region is a community full of awesomeness. We’re thankful to be a part of it. It’s a marvelous place to work on building a new generation of happy, healthy, strong.
Happy Thanksgiving. And happy #optoutside day.
The 2020 Norte Bike Library Report
HAPPY, HEALTHY, STRONG FOR EVERYONE
One good thing out of 2020 is that we recognized the outdoors’ value more than ever before. And there was an unprecedented need for bikes!
Norte was there to support the cause with our Grand Traverse Regional Kids’ Bike Library. We’re fortunate this year to have a steady supply of quality used bikes to loan young riders. Thank you to everyone who donated a bike this year and our community partners such as McLain Cycle and Fitness for always being there. With branches in both Traverse City and Elk Rapids, the library saw unprecedented growth this year.
The Grand Traverse Regional Kids’ Bike Library has a mission. It is to make sure that every kid has a bike that fits, functions, and can keep them pedaling — regardless of their family’s resources. Checking out a bike from the library is 100% free. Families return them when they’re done for the next size up.
This acceleration of the bike library is thanks to your donations and participation. In Traverse City, the Wheelhouse was packed all year. The opening of our Elk Rapids Chain Hub allowed for more convenient access for Antrim County families. Our partnerships with organizations in Grand Traverse, Antrim, and Leelanau Counties brought bikes closer to the kids who needed them across Northern Michigan. We achieved this success as part of physical education classes and through bikes checked out by families.
Thank you to everyone who made the 2020 Grand Traverse Regional Kids’ Bike Library a success. Your support has a real, measurable impact.
Dive into our full 2020 report.
A 2020 Update: Norte’s Bikes For All
Here’s a quick update on this challenging year. In 2020, we felt the cancellation of our Bikes For All–formerly The Amigos–programs. These are impactful events with our community partners at Oak Park, Life Skill Center, New Campus, and the Clubhouse’s summertime meetups. Yet, there have been some bright spots, and we are finding our way forward.
Norte’s progress to becoming a more inclusive and equitable organization continues. This year we have:
- We invested in 3 more adaptive bikes for our bike library for anyone to use for free at the Civic Center.
- Launched Norte MeetUps for the deaf community earlier this fall (above photo).
- We partnered with Arts For All on their Art Walk/Ride/Roll event this summer.
- Adopted a bold new 2021/22 Strategic Plan that puts equity and inclusion at the forefront of Norte’s work. View and download it below.
We’re looking forward to what’s on the other side of this winter and will need your support again when the time is right.
P.S. And a big shout out to 4Front Credit Union for their financial support allowing us to invest in these adaptive bikes. Thank you, 4FCU!
A Big Deal for Happy, Healthy, Ready-to-Learn Kids
In 2016, leaders in the community came together to start planning something big. Around the table were representatives from the City of Traverse City, Traverse City Area Public Schools, Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools, Traverse Bay Area Intermediate Schools, Trinity Lutheran, Michigan Fitness Foundation, Michigan Department of Transportation, and Norte.
It was an audacious project to transform ten schools with a Safe Routes to School grant. The goal: safer ways for our children to walk and bike to school.
After four years of countless meetings, plus surveys, walking audits, community planning sessions, and inevitable speed bumps, we are nearing the finish line. Recently, the City of Traverse City awarded a $2.4 million contract to our friends at Elmer’s Crane & Dozer to construct or improve 3.5 miles of sidewalk and trail.
A huge thank you to everyone at the State of Michigan working on Safe Routes to School. They’ve delivered with professionalism and with confidence. The ten school project is funding 90% by the Safe Routes to School program, with the City’s local match of $97,500 – and countless hours planning – funding the remainder. 🙏🏼
An extra huge thank you to everyone across Grand Traverse who worked their bums off to make this happen. This is a 2020 bright spot and a big deal for happy, healthy, ready-to-learn kids. I’m stoked.
Going to construction in 2021 is a giant leap forward and a promising investment in healthy, happy, and safe ways to get to school.
Let’s do more of this.
“Eks-cuse Me, Bike Train Coming!”
The Eastern Elementary Bike Train – aka the EE-Train – rolls out every day, rain or shine, in Traverse City’s Oak Heights neighborhood. Some days it’s a full crew. Other days, it’s a smaller group. But on school mornings, there’s always a happy, energetic group waiting at the intersection of Rose and Washington streets.
The ride from the meeting point to the school is a healthy mile. It includes a mix of streets, sidewalks, paved trails, and even some dirt tracks. Soon, a new paved trail will run alongside College Drive, thanks to the Safe Routes to School Infrastructure Grant. But the EE-Train has plenty of options, and bursting through the dirt trail along Eastern Avenue is a favorite part of the day for these young riders.
“The bike train started because all our kids are at the perfect age,” said EE-Train Lead DJ and father to Caleb and Robbie, Keelan McNulty. “They’ve all started riding bikes. Between the Norte Mountain bike team, Norte Summer Camp, and riding around town with their parents, these kids just love riding bikes.” He tends to show up with music pumping from a bike mounted speaker.
“We’re all families that enjoy riding bikes, so it just made sense,” agreed Nathan Hartmann, father to Everett.
According to Keelan, the bike train reached a critical mass when enough families responded to a group text suggesting the idea. The EE-Train is typically a baker’s dozen with three to four adults divided amongst four households: the McNultys, Bullochs, Hartmanns, and Buchholzes. With numbers on their side, momentum grew steadily.
The whole group appreciates the 10-15 minute ride much more than the dreaded carline. Keelan’s two boys enjoy the ride because “it’s fun and wakes us up.” Everett enjoys the daily ride because he likes seeing his friends and hitting the trails before school. However, he isn’t so keen about riding on rainy days.
On the day Norte joined the ride, Everett’s enthusiasm rang out as the bike train passed walkers on the Civic Center trail. “Excuse me, bike train coming through!” he hollered at each passerby.
“As a parent, it is such a joy to drop off children who are happy, excited, full of energy, and ready to focus on a day of learning,” said Jill Hartmann.
Charlie and Teddy’s mother, Kelly Bulloch, echoed the sentiment. “The kids are wide awake and have their blood pumping by the time they get to school. They’re so alert and energetic,” she said.
“It’s a great way to have a small adventure to start and end the school day,” advised Nathan. “It’s a fun opportunity to spend active time with your kids and helps teach them bike safety and independence. It doesn’t have to be an every day commitment. Do what works for your family.”
EE-Train can serve as a model for other families. Start with a route that is doable and inviting for the whole family. Then, ask other families to join. Keep it fun, bring the right gear, and make it happen. Even families that live far away from their school can plan a park and ride – or stroll – route. All of the EE-Train parents shared this piece of advice: make it work for you and your family.
“We’re lucky to have sidewalks, paths, and trails to use to get to school,” said Nathan. “If we had to use only streets, we probably wouldn’t be riding every day with our six-year-old.”
Keelan agreed. “Norte has paved the way in our neighborhood for kids biking to school. We are the next generation of Elementary students and parents keeping the tradition alive.”
If your family goes to Eastern Elementary and wants to join the EE-Train, just shoot Keelan an email. They’ll be happy to bring you on board.
“I used to fight to get the kids into the car – we had to drive to our former school. Now the kids anxiously wait for me in the garage each morning,” adds Kelly. “They can’t wait to see their friends and start the ride. It’s such a positive way to start the day.”
Group photo at top of page: The EE-Train, from left to right: Keelan McNulty, Robbie McNulty, Caleb McNulty, Kelly Bulloch, Teddy Bulloch, Everett Hartman, Emily Bucholz, Charlie Bulloch, Nathan Hartmann, Reagan Bulloch, Brendan McNulty)
Safe Routes to School and Norte
Norte administers school-based, walk and bike-focused initiatives across the Grand Traverse region. Our programs, projects, and events empower students of all ages, and their adults, to be active for life. If you need a little help creating your own bike or walk train, let us know.
Cranksgiving: Food and Fun on Two Wheels
Our Cranksgiving Presser:
Norte invites Northern Michigan residents to form a team and sign up for this year’s Cranksgiving. The event combines a fun bicycle ride – costumes encouraged – with food collection to benefit local families. The annual event started in New York City in 1999 and launched in Northern Michigan in 2018.
This year’s Northern Michigan Cranksgiving begins at 11 am on Saturday, November 22. This year at three locations: Traverse City, Elk Rapids, and Suttons Bay.
Cranksgiving riders will need a bicycle, a lock, a mask, and a minimum of $25 to purchase groceries and household items from participating Northern Michigan businesses. To collect all of the items on the shopping list, it helps to ride as a team, but solo riders are welcome. Registration for Norte’s 2020 Cranksgiving is free and currently open at the organization’s website, elgruponorte.org/cranksgiving.
“I love Cranksgiving. It’s a blast to see families and teams come out in the cold to have some fun, get a little ride in, and to do some good,” said Ty Schmidt, Norte Executive Director. “We have two categories, one for folks who want to ride 5-6 miles and another for a more leisurely 2-3 miles. Cranksgiving is a family event intended for people of all ages.”
This year, Norte is hosting Cranksgiving events in multiple locations in Northern Michigan. Currently, Elk Rapids, Suttons Bay, and Traverse City will simultaneously host events. However, Norte is interested in collaborating with other communities to hold Cranksgiving drives as well. “If your community is interested, let us know, and we can help you make it happen,” said Schmidt.
All Cranksgiving events will begin at 11 am, with check-in spread out from then until noon to allow for social distancing. At check-in, teams will be giving a shopping list and further instructions. When groups finish, they return the items to the starting spot. Norte will work with Food Rescue and area pantries to deliver the goods to families in need in the region. The ride should take around two hours.
To help keep everyone healthy and help stop the spread of COVID-19, Norte asks that all riders stay home if they have any symptoms before the event. Teams are required to wear a mask and maintain social distance. Although this is not a race, teams receive bonus points for posting to social media pictures of their team washing their hands.
Food Rescue will distribute items collected by the riders to the Northwest Food Coalition’s food pantries in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, and Leelanau counties. “I look forward to spending the day with friends to have fun and do good. But Cranksgiving is something more, too,” said Taylor Moore, Food Rescue Manager for Goodwill Northern Michigan.
“Cranksgiving gives me the opportunity to think about why we need to have this event: because every year so many people struggle to buy their Thanksgiving meal,” Moore continued. “The Norte community knows better than most the power of collective action. Just as we can envision new trails and roads where vehicles take more notice, we can envision kids riding their bikes to school with stomachs full of nutritious food. This Cranksgiving, I’ll be envisioning new reasons to bike, and a Thanksgiving free of COVID and hunger.”
This year’s Northern Michigan Cranksgiving is presented by Norte Business Champion, State Farm Agent Susan Rauser. More information on Cranksgiving can be found online: https://elgruponorte.org/cranksgiving/
Mrs. Kline, Mrs. Kloosterman, and the Grand Traverse Kids’ Bike Library
I have a special place in my heart for physical education teachers. My dad was my elementary school gym teacher. In middle school, it was Mr. Davidson and then Mrs. Luke in high school. All three of these mentors helped shape who I am today.
I recently met two more exceptional PE teachers, Mrs. Kline from Grand Traverse Academy, and Mrs. Kloosterman from Suttons Bay Public Schools. It turns out, Jodi and Jen are sisters. They grew up in Zeeland in the DeVree house. Jen graduated from Hope College while Jodi attended Cornerstone University. They both moved to the Traverse City area in the naughts.
Jodi and Jen recently came to the Norte Wheelhouse to pick-up a fleet of loaner bicycles to teach cycling to their lower elementary students. These bicycles came out of Norte’s Grand Traverse Regional Kids’ Bike Library.
This library took off six years ago, thanks to a massive donation of bicycles by McLain Cycle and Fitness. It helps keep elementary-aged students pedaling by ensuring their bike always fits, no matter their family’s resources. Thanks to many supporters, kids can borrow a bike for as long as it suits them. Once they outgrow the bike, they return it in exchange for the next size up. All this, thanks to continued generous community support, for free.
Bicycles lead to freedom, independence, opportunity, and health. Bikes can take young riders to the places they need to go – to the park, their buddy’s house, or to school.
Knowing that students are learning bike safety in school has me excited, and I wonder if any of these young Mustangs and Norsemen will be inspired long term by their gym teachers like I was?
Jodi and Jen are now in the second week of their bike unit, and Jodi just told me, “The kids are having so much fun, and a few are learning to ride for the first time. Being a physical educator is the best job in the world!”
I’m so grateful for our physical education teachers. Thanks for what you do and keep awesome, Jodi and Jen.
The Wonderful People Powering Team Orange
From the Clubhouse to the Wheelhouse. From the new Chain Hub in Elk Rapids and the six trailheads where kids met to ride mountain bikes this fall. In each place, I’ve met so many wonderful people this year committed to happy, healthy, strong communities and active-for-life kids. These are the wonderful people who power the small but mighty tribe, Team Orange.
These many people have powered Team Orange to what will be – despite all the challenges – our most impactful year yet.
- 630+ kids in summer camp
- 270+ kids in Michigan’s largest youth mountain bike team
- A multitude of kids participating in Northern Michigan Walks To School Day
- Miles of new sidewalk being laid down in Traverse City
- A more accessible – and very free – Community Bike Shop at the Clubhouse
- New Bike Library branch (The Chain Hub!) in Elk Rapids
- Stronger organizational and financial capacity – Thank you, Norte Board of Directors!
- The launch of our Essential bike program
- New coalition to extend the Three Mile Trail
- A growing Grand Traverse Regional Kids’ Bike Library – now at nearly 500 bikes!
- Approved GT County Civic Center master plan, which includes a world-class pump track and traffic garden
None of this would be possible without hundreds of wonderful people who donated their time, energy, and financial resources to support happy, healthy, strong communities and active-for-life kids.
It’s a testament to this incredible place we live and the amazing people who call it home.
Thank you to Norte’s heart and soul.
PS — Because of a less than great forecast, we postponed last week’s volunteer celebration to this coming Saturday. Join us at the lovely and spacious Farm Club on Saturday, October 24th, from 4-7 pm. First drink on us! Please RSVP. And, let’s be responsible – mask up, keep a distance, and stay home if you’re not 100%.
Keep It Rolling, Keep Smiling: Safely
I couldn’t be prouder of Team Norte. Our coaches and volunteers, core staff and the board of directors, and the hundreds of young riders and their families involved in Norte programs this year have all embraced the added responsibility of 2020 with steady resilience and calm.
In June, we cautiously opened up The Traverse City Summer Bike Camp. On the first day, campers showed up with masks on and wide-eyed with excitement. We quickly realized they were also wearing huge smiles under these new accessories. Pandemic or no pandemic, they were ready to ride. And, so were we.
We’ve continued riding into the fall as we ride our way through the fourth week of practice for the Grand Traverse Regional Youth Mountain Bike Team and the third week of The Bike Más Project. We’re having a blast and – for the most part – celebrating the time out on the trails with near-perfect fall weather.
Yet, with all the fun we’re having, we are still working tirelessly to keep a promise to our staff, young riders, and their families to keep them safe and healthy. And also do Norte’s part to stop the spread of the coronavirus. We can confidently deliver our programs because of the team effort, and that effort includes all of you. Thank you.
As positive cases rise and fall in the community, let’s keep being responsible and doing our part to keep it rolling.
- Wear your masks.
- Maintain safe distances.
- Wash your hands.
- Monitor your health.
And, as always, let’s have fun out there.
Happy. Healthy. Strong. Responsibly.
Laura Otwell: Traverse City’s Pro Walk/Pro Bike Matriarch
This story first appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
When Johanna and I moved to Traverse City from Arizona in 2006 and bought a house on Washington Street, we knew we were moving into a great neighborhood, but we didn’t know that we were moving three blocks away from someone who would become one of our favorite people.
Laura Otwell, a Detroit girl and graduate of Cass Tech high school, is a special human being. A mom of three incredible girls, Laura, is smart, kind, generous, and humble. She is curious, thoughtful, empathetic and a long-time advocate for stronger, better connected, and more walkable, bikeable neighborhoods. I repeat, Laura Otwell is an extraordinary human being.
Laura started Smart Commute Week in 1995 and served on the TART Board of Directors in 1998, where she led their bike advocacy efforts. She was also instrumental in the founding of Norte in 2013. She was an original Team Orange Board member before joining Norte’s staff for a year as an Americorps VISTA in 2016.
Ever passionate about providing better opportunities for kids to walk and bike more, Laura was there in 2016 when Norte began the process to assist the City of Traverse City with their ambitious $2 million Safe Routes To School grant. This grant will improve access and connection around ten in-town schools. It will transform the way neighborhood kids get to their neighborhood school and finally come to fruition this summer.
An ardent champion of fairness and equity, Laura was also a supporter of the $4.9 million sidewalk acceleration project, primarily in the Traverse Heights neighborhood. You can see an outcome of that advocacy right now on Hannah, Bates, Grant, Centre, Barlow, and Boyd Streets. These new sidewalks are a gamechanger for improved opportunities for active living and social connectedness in a neighborhood that’s been underserved for generations. They will provide safe access now and for generations to come.
Laura fully realizes that she’s building on the work of those who came before her. This history includes the work of the talented June Thaden, who she describes as “Quite the gal!” However, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Mrs. Otwell is the current matriarch of Traverse City’s Pro Walk/Pro Bike movement. A movement that continues to gain momentum with a revisioned 8th Street, a pedestrian-only Front Street, a shared Washington Street, and an easier to cross Parkway.
Laura is a natural grassroots community leader who knows that actions, not slogans or fancy words, is the key to real enduring change. She knows that change can be hard and unpopular, but others’ resistance is part of the deal when we sign up to disrupt the status quo.
As we see the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, I look to Laura for inspiration on how we should navigate this new normal.
Let’s prioritize our public spaces, including our neighborhood streets, and give more to this fantastic place we call home than we take from it.
Let’s contribute more to our neighborhoods’ health and measure success on the ideas we spread, the causes we stand for, the lives we help transform, and how others fare because of our efforts.
Let’s go to bat for inclusion, fairness, dignity, and equitable mobility options. And for each other. Our neighbors.
Let’s be more like Laura. Our Pro Walk/Pro Bike matriarch and an exceptional human being.
Organize, Organize, Organize is Key Lesson in 2020 Advocate Academy
The 2020 Advocate Academy Graduates
This year, Norte strengthened its partnership with Groundwork Center and jointly delivered curriculum to 15 participants for the 2020 Advocate Academy. I was joined by Groundwork’s Policy Specialist Jim Bruckbauer to co-vacillated the six-week Pro Walk/Pro Bike training program. This year’s participants brought with them a wide variety of experience in community planning, group organization, and campaigning. The insights of a nurse union leader, housing advocate, public transit planner, and many others added valuable depth to discussions and team projects.
Above: Policy specialist Jim Bruckbauer of Groundwork Center describes working with state institutions like Michigan Department of Transportation.
The Advocate Academy focused on the need to organize, and to revisit and feed the organizing process continually. This effort is necessary whether a campaign is working on improving a single corner in your neighborhood or undertaking a community-wide policy change. Eight broad steps for an advocacy campaign framed the training, and the measures in the graphic below were expanded upon and refined each week. Ultimately, we recognized that these aren’t steps to follow one by one in sequential order, but are interconnected measures feeding into one another through the ups and downs of any meaningful campaign.
Organize Your Advocacy
Although my advocacy dreams involve housing and a totally different community (Petoskey), I learned so much about what it means to advocate for a community and its needs. I now notice areas in my community that could use attention when it comes to Pro Walk/Pro Bike.
– Julia Johnson
In the end, four teams presented their case for four different initiatives.
- Walk the Heights organized around promoting Traverse City’s Traverse Heights Neighborhood as a walk first neighborhood.
- Safe Passage galvanized around the announcement of TCAPS Montessori moving to Franke Rd. to call for improved access at the Silver Lake, Franke Rd. and Silver Dr. intersection.
- Street Defenders zeroed in on the inadequacies of the City of Traverse City’s newly drafted, yet to be implemented, Street Design Manual.
- Midblockers recognized the success of mid-block crossings on Traverse City’s 8th Street and drafted a campaign to create a policy requiring more mid-block crosswalks beginning with Hall St. and 14th Street.
CRAFTING THE MESSAGE
As in previous years, we devoted considerable time to crafting personal and team messages. This effort is important because the art of persuasive storytelling goes beyond having the facts on your side. Persuasion is a practice, and advocacy is, in large part, figuring out how to persuade a decision-maker to do something in the public’s interest that they’d otherwise wish not to do or not do in the time-frame desired. We can have the best goals and the smartest strategies, but they are likely to fall flat if the delivery isn’t crafted in a way for the intended audience to absorb it. This is all part of finding your voice and learning that language matters.
As we did last year, we borrowed from the author Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human and kicked off the first week with a homework assignment to write a personal Pixar Pitch. This lesson accentuates the heroic story we all face, and as citizen advocates step into as we step into leadership roles. Plus, it’s fun!
Once upon a time, there was a kindergartener named Maya. Every day, she walked to school with her mom or dad and her baby sister. One day, they built a new school farther away and across two scary, dangerous, busy roads. Because of that, she couldn’t walk anymore. Because of that, she had to climb into a car every morning instead of getting fresh air, exercise, and a chance to greet her neighbors. Until finally, safer road crossings became a reality, and she could ride her bike to school (by the time she was in 7th grade).
-Kate Hofmann, team Safe Passage
What’s your heroic tale?
The 2020 Advocate Academy’s last session was on the eve of Michigan’s stay home order. The world has undoubtedly changed in that short time, and yet the importance of informed and poignant advocacy remains vital. We wish all of the graduates continued success. Norte is here to help. Thank you.
SPECIAL THANK YOU
This year’s Advocate Academy was presented in partnership with Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and was made possible through the generous financial support by the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation.
Happy, Healthy, Strong: Read Norte’s Very First Annual Report
We’re excited to share our first hot-off-the-presses Annual Report!
A lot of love, sweat, and grateful tears went into this project. There are beautiful stories penned by the young and young at heart, a jog down memory lane, and a whole lot of high impact numbers and Team Orange names of which we’re very, very proud.
Through reflection on past adventures, we’re humbled by this summary of our collective work to build community and a happy, healthy, strong future. Thank you for joining us on this incredible 7-year journey — I can’t wait for what’s next. By dreaming big and working hard, together, we’re building a tomorrow of more active-for-life kids supported by safer, better connected, and more walk/bike-friendly neighborhoods.
Team Orange is keeping our eyes and heart focused on this vision which I believe is more important than ever. Thank you for keeping us rolling, especially in these uncertain times!
Stay safe, stay healthy and viva Norte.
Ty Schmidt, Executive Director
Read the report online or download a PDF version below.
Advocacy Newsletter: Hunker Down and Continue to Explore
Advocacy Newsletter, March 24, 2020
What creative solutions are you and your neighbors doing to maintain a physical distance and continue to be together? Post your photo on your favorite social media of choice and tag us. We’d love to see what you come up with.
This will be the last Norte advocacy newsletter for a while, and I want to reach out to everyone and wish you all well. When this is over, we are going to need your courage and your voice to heal our community. You may not think of yourself as a citizen advocate, but if you have the drive to help others and make a positive impact, that’s squarely one aspect of who you are and can be.
Now more than ever, our community and its long-term health rely on our individual actions. Our heroic journey now includes staying home, staying safe, staying active, responsbily. I add the latter because those walls are going to close in fast, and getting outside (while avoiding contact and staying close to home) is going to be medicine for our minds and bodies. Outside is not canceled. It has been deemed essential.
I have an advocacy challenge for when you’re out and about exploring your neighborhood. With the streets a bit more empty and the view of our public spaces a bit more open, what do you see? What sparks joy? What do you see that could use improvement? Is the change something you could do at that moment? Maybe DIY it after some planning? Or, is it something you’ll need help on?
Keep a journal of your walks. Take pictures. Be ready to roll out those great ideas when we get through this difficult time. If you want to conduct your own walking audit, download a Norte Walking Audit Scoresheet. As always, please email me with questions or observations. I’m here to help.
For the days when you’re hunkered down, I offer here some resources and books that I return to again and again: Tactical Urbanism: Vol 1, Vol 2; Better Block How-to Wiki; NACTO Guides; Walkable City Rules by Jeff Speck; Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt; City Cycling by Ralph Buehler; On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz; and, one broader in scope, Sapiens: A Brief History of the Humankind by Yuval Harari.
Help our friends at Brick Wheels and keep an eye out for this $5k Trek Farley. Someone tossed a rock through their window and pinched it last night.
Quick Spins (FROM THE WEB)
- Here’s to Meandering! – We tend to walk or bike to get someplace or achieve some distance or race against time. Perhaps this forced downtime is the right time to bring back meandering. There’s a certain beauty in aimlessness.
- Narrow Sidewalks Make it Hard to Follow 6-foot rule – As you spend time walking your neighborhood in the next few weeks, take a tape measure with you. How wide is that sidewalk? Is it time to reallocate more of the right of way to people on foot?
- Missing Strangers – “Keep choosing to see every stranger as a friend,” writes Lauren Duca. Along with this thought, here’s one more book recommendation, Consequential Strangers by Melinda Blau.
- Someone Definitely Needs a Solution Class – Late Show host Stephen Colbert sort of changes a bike tube. Where’s Ben when you need him?
If anything, this pandemic is offering us a profound reminder and making tangible what we often take for granted: we are in this together. There’s no “us” and “them,” there’s only us.
Stay home. Stay safe. Stay active, responsibly.
Have a friend who is always talking about the streets and traffic? They can sign up below.
Stay Home. Stay Safe. Stay Active, Responsibly
Stay Home. Stay Safe. Stay Active, Responsibly
Today, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order No 2020-21,” putting “Stay Home, Stay Safe” in effect until April 13. We encourage everyone to follow the State’s COVID19 Website and Grand Traverse County COVID19 for continued updates to all CDC recommendations and information.
We want to highlight section 7.a.1 of the Governor’s order. It states we may leave our homes “to engage in outdoor activity, including walking, hiking, running, cycling, or any other recreational activity consistent with remaining at least six feet from people from outside the individual’s household.”
Outside is not canceled. It has been deemed essential.
To navigate our way through this and come out with a stronger community, staying active, staying healthy, staying responsible is our challenge. Norte programs empower everyone to make outdoor activities part of our every day lives. Now is the time, like no other, to put that into practice. Get out solo. Explore the area around your home with your family unit. You can wave to your friends from opposite sides of the street.
Importantly, stay active responsibly. The Stay Home, Stay Safe order by Governor Gretchen Whitmer is not a suggestion, it is an order. Thankfully, it recognizes that working out the kinks and stretching our legs is essential.
Physical Distancing, Social Solidarity
During this time, we must also maintain the social support networks we have, even if that means, for the time being, it focuses on timely Facebook shout outs, friendly text messages and calls, and shouts across the street to a neighbor on their porch. Social distancing is the chosen public health term, and we can honor it with physical distancing and social solidarity.
For those who can, supporting our local businesses that remain open during is a powerful show of solidarity and will keep you energized. Here is a list of our Business Champions still open. Many of them deliver – reduce the number of people out and about, take them up on it!
- The Filling Sation – Curbside Take Out
- Oryana – Open, Curbside, and Delivery
- Common Good Bakery – Curbside Take Out
- Fresh Coast Market – Curbside Available
- Rarebird – Curbside Take Out
- That ‘sa Pizza – Curbside Take Out
Check their websites or call in advance. And for a broader range of businesses, here are lists published by Traverse City Tourism, Downtown Traverse City Association, and Elk Rapids DDA. The Village of Northport, Village of Suttons Bay, and Downtown Kalkaska are also sources for local updates.
Please peruse all of our Business Champions, many of whom will play particular roles in the eventual recovery. None more so than the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, which is seeking donations for its Urgent Needs Fund. These funds will assist vital regional services in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, and Leelanau Counties.
And, a special shout out to those on the front lines at Munson Healthcare – Thank you! They are in dire need of community support. Please click through to see if there’s something you can do. They need donations and medical supplies.
For the time being, we are going to cloister ourselves. These actions are for the safety and health of the community. Those walls are going to close in, so find a motivator to keep you active and friends to keep you tuned into your social support group.
Be cautious. Stay away from places like playgrounds and things like doorknobs as much as you can, but get outside. Breathe.
We’re in this together. Be strong. Be well.
Stay Home. Stay Safe. Stay Active, Responsibly
Advocacy Newsletter: The Time is Now, Let’s Act
Advocacy Newsletter, February 25, 2020
Policy specialist Jim Bruckbauer of Groundwork Center delivers at 2020 Advocate Academy.
This is your February advocacy newsletter. Below, you’ll find four items ready for action and one big shout out. Let’s act!
Back in January, the Traverse City City Commission held a strategic planning session to clarify the new board’s goals and priorities. One of those outcomes was a goal to expand and improve active transportation options. One action step agreed to is the forming of an Active Transportation Committee.
There are many forms that an Active Transportation Committee can take. Still, generally, it is an appointed committee that advises city staff and elected officials on strategic plans to boost conditions for walking, biking, public transit, and other forms of non-automobile transportation, including universal accessibility for those using wheelchairs. These committees or commissions often invite experts in the field to serve on them.
Forming an Active Transportation Committee has long been considered a missing piece to the advancement of Pro Walk/Pro Bike initiatives in Traverse City. Currently, each major street project is a last-minute hustle to adequately meet the accessibility goals stated in the City’s Master Plan. An established committee that meets every two months or when needed to review budgets, plans, and strategic documents would be a valuable addition to the planning process.
Please send encouragement to key City Staff and City Commissioners, asking them to establish an Active Transportation Committee as soon as possible. The time is now.
Do you work at an aspiring Bicycle Friendly Business? Is your business ready to be certified?
- Walk and Bike to School – As part of our systems roll out with area schools, we’re developing informational tools to help encourage families to include a walk or bike ride to and from school. We need your feedback to get this right. Find a school you know, take a look at the “how-to,” and let us know what you think.
- Stop Distracted Driving – You’ve probably done your count and confirmed that an estimated 20…30…40 percent of us drive while distracted by our phones. Our partner in Lansing, League of Michigan Bicyclists, is working hard to see that Michigan joins 16 other states who have banned the use of hand-held wireless devices while driving. Please, take action today.
- Railroad Square Rolling – Shout out to the Village of Kalkaska for bringing in $3.7 million for the Railroad Square project. The project is a centerpiece for creating a vibrant downtown that is more accessible and active. They break ground this spring. Toot! Toot!
- It’s Sneckdown Season – Due to the sunny weather in February, the streets are clear, and near-perfect conditions exist for #sneckdown pics. When we next see fresh snow, it will melt where traffic is the heaviest and reveal the extra space we reserve for our cars (and speed) that we could reclaim for people & public life. Let’s build up our collection of local examples. Please shoot me an email and post them with #Sneckdown. I’ll share the best ones. Here’s an exemplary example via @BrentToderian
Every winter, fresh snow reveals how much we’ve over-designed our streets & roads, & how much space we could reclaim for people & public life. We call them #sneckdowns. GIF via @fietsprofessor #sneckdown pic.twitter.com/G1uDpO6awG
— Brent Toderian (@BrentToderian) November 3, 2019
Be safe. Have fun. Send us some #sneckdown photos!
Have a friend who is always talking about the streets and traffic? They can sign up below.
What are the Best Ways to Walk or Bike to a School Near You?
As part of our three year systems acceleration project with the area schools and funded by Rotary Charities, we’re developing informational tools to help encourage families to include a walk or bike ride to and from school.
We need your feedback to get this right. If you were a new family, would the following informational pages be helpful? Each page offers encouragement, a route map, park and stroll locations, and answers to frequently asked questions.
Example Route Map for the Eastern Stars
- Central Grade
- Willow Hill Elementary
- Traverse Heights Elementary
- TCAPS Montessori
- West Middle
- Eastern Elementary
Advocacy Newsletter: Do You Whistle When You Shovel the Sidewalk?
Advocacy Newsletter, January 28, 2020
We believe that an advocate’s work starts at the front porch, includes a
nice snow shovel, and a tune you can whistle.
I hope January is treating you well. This month’s Advocacy Newsletter has a few items to highlight from this first month of year 2020, so let’s jump in.
First, Norte Neighborhood Advocacy established an advocacy committee to assist with strategic planning, provide feedback as issues arise and on-the-street observations and perspectives from across the region. We also look to this group to fuel creativity, camaraderie, and collaboration among citizen advocates across the region. Advocating needs more merriment!
Our inaugural committee members represent the geographic reach of our growing community, from Northport around the bays to Elk Rapids and Kalkaska. Here’s a big-orange thank you to the 12 rockstars on the committee. If you see any of the following people, give them a warm Norte thanks and perhaps share your dreams for a better community.
Thank you Kelly Primo, William White, Jeanne Esch, Corrine Wetherbee, Connor Miller, Janice Beyer, Lauren Dake, Kaischa Smith, Bill Danly, Tracy Halasinski, and John Roberts. The committee is chaired by the newly elected board president, Chris Hinze.
If you have questions or suggestions, please email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- It’s that CIP Time of Year – CIP is short for Capital Improvement Program or Plan. Local governments use the CIP to review the 5-6 year major infrastructure plan annually. Typically, the further out a project is, the more visionary it is. An appropriate CIP integrates planning between departments and aligns with the budget and policy priorities from previous years. Current major projects proposed for Traverse City include five different bridge projects, reconstruction of Garfield Ave. (Front to Hannah), several neighborhood parks, the Boardman Lake Loop extension, continued sidewalk gap infill, and the annual street reconstruction program. If you want to understand the upcoming walk and bike projects and see where your own positive influence might be useful, there is a public hearing for Traverse City’s CIP on February 4th. If you’re not in Traverse City, you can visit your local government’s website for their CIP process (I’m happy to help, just reach out).
- Fixing the Stroads – Coined by Strong Towns to describe dangerous, multi-laned corridors, that underperform by almost all measures, stroads are street/road hybrids that need fixing. The City of Traverse City recently asked for our input on How to Make Our Major Corridors More Inviting. After you review our list, let us know your own suggestions. Send them my way and if they are relevant to Traverse City, share them with the city planner, Russ Soyring at email@example.com
- 2020 Advocate Academy – Next Thursday, we begin another year in partnership with Groundwork Center to kick off the third annual Advocate Academy. In the six weekly meetings, participants work together to develop strategies and approaches for effective local advocacy related to the Pro Walk/Pro Bike initiative. There are a few spots left, so learn more and enroll today. Bring a friend!
Be safe. Have fun. Keep advocating for all things great.
Have a friend who is always talking about the streets and traffic? They can sign up below.