GTPulse: Off the Pavement—Norte Takes to the Trails
My mom sent me a text message a few weeks ago.
It read, “A very eventful first night of Norte’s mountain biking team for Jasmine. She loved it. She DID crash her bike through a hornet’s nest. Stung four times. But, she’s ready and excited to go back on Wednesday. Only Jasmine would run over a hornet’s nest.”
Jasmine is my niece, and that text message perfectly encapsulates her determined little spirit.
Jasmine is in the fifth grade, and, prior to Norte, her bicycling was limited to the quarter-mile block of my Mom’s subdivision. This summer, though, she participated in Norte’s Summer Bike Camp where— in just a week—she road over 50 miles, visited dozens of parks, learned the rules of the road and bike safety protocols, and even learned how to make basic bike repairs.
In one week, Jasmine learned that two-wheels and a helmet was a gateway to health, exploration and independence.
That’s the foundation of Norte.
Ty and Johanna Schmidt have a shared love of bicycles. When they moved to Traverse City 2006, they noticed the long morning car lines that wrapped around neighborhood schools. Upon further examination, they realized there were hardly any kids walking to schools, even a few blocks away from their homes, and even fewer kids were biking. They started inviting neighborhood families to drop their kids off at their house so they could bike them to Eastern Elementary, where their boys went to school. It was a bike train—led by Ty in the morning and by Johanna in the afternoon.
The bike train, which started with just a few kids, quickly grew. And the Schmidt’s realized that their daily treks were more than just transportation. They were social gatherings, full of fun conversation in a natural environment that allowed for Ty and Johanna to teach their group about riding safely.
What began as two parents inviting neighbor kids to ride with them to school is now an expansive bicycling powerhouse of summer camps, after school programs, preschool balance bikes programs, youth empowerment programs, a bicycle library and more.
“The Mountain Bike Team came about naturally,” explains Ben Boyce, Program Director for Norte. “We noticed that kids were participating in our Bike Más Project (Norte’s after school program focused on in town riding and bike safety) but they wanted to do off-road riding, so we started the Mountain Bike teams at the Civic Center. We would meet after school a couple of times a week in the spring and the fall. Now, we’re at seven locations—it’s our biggest year yet.”
This year, the Mountain Bike Teams have expanded to cover seven locations in three counties with 275 kids between 1st-12th grades.
“We have 18 high school kids who participate on our varsity race team,” Ben adds. “They train for performance, 20 mile rides after school.”
The rest of the kids might have aspirations to one day join the varsity race team, but many are just happy to ride their bikes in the woods.
“Our first through fifth graders are our farm teams. They’re building confidence and skills.”
For Jasmine, the confidence and skills she’s gaining are secondary to the sheer fun of getting off the pavement and into the woods.
“I just feel cool,” she tells me when I ask about her new team, “I’m going super fast, I’m like Barry Gordon—you know, The Flash—only I’m on a bike.”
Exercise, confidence, and feeling like The Flash. I don’t think it gets any cooler than that.
For more information about all of the exciting things happening at Norte, click here.
Norte Bike Team Locations:
- Civic Center, Traverse City (elementary, middle, and high schoolers)
- Timber Ridge, Traverse City (elementary, middle, and high schoolers)
- The Commons, Traverse City (middle schoolers)
- Westwoods Elementary, near Long Lake – Lake Dubonnet trails (elementary schoolers)
- Maplehurst near Elk Rapids (elementary schoolers)
- Glacial Hills near Bellaire (elementary schoolers)
- Palmer Woods, Leelanau County (elementary schoolers)