Your answers to 2 important questions

Your answers to 2 important questions

We’re rolling into the new year with a renewed focus on excellence. 2022 will be a glorious year for our youth programming as we continue to create possibilities to connect young riders to their communities the best way possible — on a bike!

Over the next few weeks, we will roll out opportunities to engage and share inspirational stories from our coaches and riders. For now, set your reminders for the following registration dates.

— Northern Michigan Youth Mountain Bike Team starts May 2
— Adventure Bike Club starts May 9

— Grand Traverse Regional Summer Bike Camp site-specific start dates 

Now is an excellent time to let us know if you’re interested in coaching or volunteering. Besides the programs above, we also have an exciting year of Bikes for All and balance bike meet-ups ahead. Learn more at and email us if you have any questions about any of the above.

Questions ➡️


EXTRA! We open a short early registration window for our monthly donors and super volunteers. So it’s not too late to sign up for either. And, please forward this newsletter to a potential rider, coach, or volunteer. We encourage anyone interested to subscribe for the latest updates and details.


We don’t spam, and we don’t share your contact info. However, we get excited about the fantastic people, places, and activities in Northern Michigan.

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2021 Explore Academy: Leading the Way

2021 Explore Academy: Leading the Way

This fall, Norte hosted the third annual Explore Academy. Explore Academy is an opportunity for teenagers to change the world, beginning with their neighborhood and community. This year’s crew was a smaller class to accommodate for safe, in-person meetings, and the result was more in-depth discussions and crafting of positions. 

As part of this year’s Explore meetups, we asked: “What is something you’re passionate about in your community and would like to see changed?”

Hunter, Laney, Lachlan, Kurt, and Emma dove in and did nothing but impress. View four insightful reflections and arguments in this short 4-minute video or individually below. Emma also wrote a compelling persuasion piece supporting more park space dedicated to hammocking. As she asks, “Would you rather be in an area full of vibrancy and life, or an area lacking life?”

We will be sharing each position with local representatives. 

Laney Johnson, Sidewalks to West Senior High School

Lachlan Brochmiller, Activate the Boardman River

Kurt Sheahan, Connect People to the Boardman River

Hunter Witham, Protect the Boardman River


 Thank you to all of our students for their inspiration.

Engage and represent!


Thank you to Aspire North for being a title sponsor for the second year. Thank you also to Megan Motil of Parallel Solutions for her help leading the class and lending us the conference room at Common Place.


Learn more about Explore Academy at



These Sidewalks are for Walking! ?

These Sidewalks are for Walking!

We write about sidewalks a lot. Perhaps too much. And we’ll own that because sidewalks transform neighborhoods, and we’re honored to join you in advocating for more of them for years to come.

A new sidewalk instantly creates a comfortable route to our favorite places, like coffee shops, grocery stores, parks, and schools. They provide a place to play, jog, walk the dog, or catch up with the neighbor we haven’t seen in ages. Sidewalks clear the way for the community to connect and grow; they allow resiliency to strengthen. They also encourage more of us, of all ages, to move and stay active by design. Sidewalks are a big deal.

As the 2021 construction season winds down, it’s a perfect time to celebrate miles of new sidewalk constructed in Traverse City this past year, as well as the miles of sidewalk built in the last six.

Some of the numbers to date:

  • Since 2015, Traverse City has built 12.53 miles of new sidewalk and reconstructed another seven. The total cost over that six years is $7.2 million.
  • 87% of the new sidewalks (11 miles) were built in the last two years.
  • The Safe Routes to School Infrastructure Grant provided 3.2 new miles of sidewalk and enhanced countless crosswalks, including the refuge island at Garfield Avenue and Washington Street.
  • The City also extended the Buffalo Ridge Trail to connect West Middle School and the new TCAPS Montessori to the city.

And many of you played an important part. If you sent an email, walked on a walking audit, took a survey, or voted for representatives who prioritized walking and rolling, we thank you.

On Monday night, October 11, the City of Traverse City invites the champions of sidewalks to celebrate this genuine pedestrian effort at the City Commission’s study session. The meeting starts at 7 pm on the second floor of the Governmental Center. City staff will review the accomplishment and invite representatives from TART Trails, Safe Routes to School, and Norte to review and celebrate with them. Finally, there will be a public comment period for the community to share their appreciation and stories of how new sidewalks change their daily experience.

If you are unable to attend, consider sending City Commissioners an email of appreciation. Or, if you prefer, send your message to me, and I’ll share the love from Team Orange.

See you on the sidewalk.

Gary Howe
Norte Advocacy and Communications Director

DETAILS: October 11, 2021, at 7 pm at the Governmental Center, 400 Boardman Avenue in the Commission Chambers, 2nd Floor. 

UPDATE: City of Traverse City’s public works reached out and offered that in total, 15.49 miles of sidewalk was installed since 2015 and 9.29 miles installed in 2020 & 2021, or 60% of the total. Our numbers didn’t include sidewalks added as part of street reconstruction projects.

We don’t spam, and we don’t share your contact info. However, we get excited about the fantastic people, places, and activities in Northern Michigan.

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Norte’s Summer Interns and VISTAS

Norte’s Summer Interns and VISTAS

Last week, Norte welcomed three new faces to the team for summer, Chris Gagnon (pronounced, Gon-Ya), Chelsea Gilpin, and George Townsend. We’re thrilled to have all three of them.

Chris (on the right above) is joining us as an intern through his social work studies at Northwestern Michigan College. Chelsea and George both join us as AmeriCorps Summer Associate VISTAs. In addition to helping the summer roll smoothly, all three will be working with our program team to help measure the impact of Summer Bike Camp. Chelsea and George are specifically examining Norte’s effort to reduce summer learning loss.

All three of them are a delight. So when you see Chris, Chelsea, and George, be sure to introduce yourself and give them a giant orange welcome.

Norte is committed to supporting our local health departments, public health professionals, Norte staff, and patrons. Please help us prevent the spread and follow precautions, practice healthy hygiene, and get vaccinated.

It’s Not Magic, but it is Magical

Welcome Photo with Jill Sill

I witnessed confidence grow in my daughters that I had yet to nurture in other ways. My girls became experts at navigating our community, the city streets, and the trail system. And they developed new friendships with peers from other schools and adults who became more than coaches — all in the first week of Norte’s Summer Bike Camp.

As they continued participating in programs, they pushed their bodies further than before — increasingly on their own, but within a supportive community. They shared stories that highlighted the simple joy of stopping into Oryana for a fresh peach and dipping their hot, sweaty toes into the Boardman River. They arrived back to me with a glow of exhaustion from physically working hard and laughing, typically a little dusty and spent from the fun. That was Norte’s impact.

What started as an experience for my daughters soon began to provide a community for our entire family. We helped paint Norte’s Wheelhouse, cleaned up after the Ironman, cranked it out for Cranksgiving, and enjoyed the thrill of Adventurama. We watched as our middle daughter moved up in age and ability and became a member of the varsity team, Liderato, and then an assistant coach. Her leadership skills grew exponentially, and her desire to lean in and engage more left us in awe. I knew I wanted to play a larger role within Norte. I wanted to help ensure others gained the skills and confidence my daughters did.

Pull Quote

Last October, I jumped at a job opening at Norte. I was ready. I had already written three cover letters to Norte over the years. I had been watching the organization develop and solidify its place within our community. Finally, an open position matched my experience and skill set. It all worked out.

Next week will be my four-month anniversary as Norte’s Director of Operations. I can attest that my understanding of the far-reaching efforts and impacts and my respect for Norte grow daily. We make a difference.

Working collectively with passionate, intelligent, kind, and determined colleagues to further the Norte mission is a delight. The work is intentional, challenging, and incredibly rewarding. It is not magic. The work includes:

  • Promoting individual and collective health.
  • Advocacy for accessible, inclusive communities.
  • Connecting with individuals in an ever-expanding universe across Northern Michigan.

When you combine the solid vision of Norte and communities that recognize our work’s value, the result is magical. I am honored to play a small part.

There is room for everyone within Norte. There is room for you. Join us as a volunteer, a coach, a VISTA, a bike mechanic, or a program participant.

Let’s roll!

Jills signature

Jill, Director of Operations

P.S. Norte is hiring for the upcoming season. We need bike coaches for our camps and teams across Northern Michigan (i.e., Northport, Suttons Bay, Kalkaska). We have both paid and volunteer coaching opportunities, the latter as little as one day per week.

Safe and Responsible

Making Change One Step at a Time

Eleanor Brockway in front of her home in Central Neighborhood, Traverse City

Eleanor Brockway walks daily, and it’s by design.

Making Change One Step at a Time

Winter Walk Wednesday or not, when the temperatures hover around zero, it can take a little extra motivation to get out and walk. That’s why Norte supports the buddy system, whether by walking with an old friend or by reaching out to someone who offers–like a Norte staff member. We all need a little extra encouragement sometimes. 

Although walking for recreation is fairly common, choosing a lifestyle that promotes a walk by design is gaining momentum. When Eleanor Brockway, a Munson Medical Center nurse, moved to Traverse City she intentionally shifted her residence and her daily activities to support a walkable way of life year-round.  

Eleanor wasn’t always able to live a car-lite lifestyle. When Eleanor and her husband, Blaine, first moved to the area, they lived in Interlochen. They owned two cars, and walking for anything other than recreation was nearly impossible. That changed in 2018 when they moved to Traverse City, less than a mile from the hospital. 

“We are a one-car family now that we live in town. That was by design and I’m digging it,” she said. “This is a dream that I thought would never come true—being able to walk to work and have one car instead of two. I thought it was an unattainable dream.”

Quote: I'm pinching myself. I can't believe this is my life now. 

She didn’t think she could ever live close enough to walk to work because of the reputation that Traverse City is prohibitively expensive. However, once she and Blaine found a fixer-upper and redistributed their budget, they realized that her dream home in a walkable community was attainable after all.

“Getting rid of one car changed our whole view. It changed our budget and everything,” Eleanor explained. In 2020, the American Automobile Association calculated the real annual cost of vehicle ownership at $7,114, almost 6-10 months of mortgage payments. “I’m pinching myself. I can’t believe this is my life now.” 

Moving to Traverse City’s Central Neighborhood wasn’t all she did to get down to one car and more trips on foot. Upon moving to town, Eleanor switched banks, doctors, and other regular destinations. “I changed everything that I had to do, to something that I didn’t have to rely on a car,” she said. “If you’re not scared of change, it’s thrilling. I got excited. I can do everything without a car.”

The benefits of incorporating walking into a daily routine are robust. Walking reduces stress, improves overall physical and mental health while reducing pollution. Walking also connects us physically and socially to our community, often leading to a deeper appreciation for it and a desire to spark positive change

Eleanor certainly embodies this commitment to her community and is an alumnus of the 2020 Advocate Academy. She recognizes that Traverse City and the surrounding townships have a ways to go before everyone can make the changes she’s made. 

“I feel lucky because I know it isn’t possible for everybody,” she said. “Hopefully, we can become a more affordable place to live. I hope I can be part of that solution. I don’t know what those solutions are, but I’m willing to see what I can bring to the table.”

Reflecting on her Advocate Academy experience, she found the experience refreshing and found solidarity with other Academy members devoted to bettering the community. “Sometimes you forget that people care about this too. This is a group effort,” she said. “I found the whole thing so helpful to visualize start to finish what it takes to implement change.”


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. 


Safe and Responsible


Walking and Talking With Lee Elston

Lee Elston smiling at the Grand Traverse Civic Center

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.

Quote, what is good for your heart, is good for your brain

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. 


Safe and Responsible


#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:

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.

– Ty

P.S. Who are we kidding? We need to throw in at least two more. Thank you to BATA for tricking out bus stops with orange and to the EE-Train. Keep being amazing.

The 2020 Norte Bike Library Report


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.

Thank you,

– Ty

 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!”

“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.

Norte in Schools



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,

“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:

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.


An extended version of this column appeared in the Record-Eagle on October 22.

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.

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.

— Ty

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.


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.


If you’re interested in learning more about Norte Advocacy, please sign up for our advocacy newsletter, and don’t hesitate to send me a message at



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.

Download “Norte's 2019 Annual Report” NorteAnnualReport2020-final.pdf – Downloaded 560 times – 25 MB