Bikes on Board! MICA Initiatives take Island Cycling to Higher Heights
By Isobel Harry
There’s a joyous upsurge in enthusiasm for bicycling on Manitoulin– the numbers are in and they show an increasing appetite for this healthy, enjoyable sport, year after year. For starters, the Island’s many natural charms and nostalgic appeal, tranquil back roads and welcoming inhabitants all but guarantee a stress-free vacation on wheels with as many or as few local activities as desired.
It was the Manitoulin Cycling Advocates’ (MICA) inaugural Passage Ride in 2012 that first brought eighty bicyclists on a free ferry ride to Manitoulin from Tobermory (sponsored by the Owen Sound Transportation Company), kick-starting the annual event that saw 250 riders disembark last year for two days of fully supported riding, food, music and fresh air infusions.
For MICA’s president, Maja Mielonen, and vice-president Guy Nielen, the continual increase in bicycle riders on the Island provides the motivation to up the ante not only with new additions to their cycling adventure offerings but with their ongoing successful lobbying of the powers that be for better cycling infrastructure on the Island, all the while networking with tourism boards and regional bike trail organizations, attending Tourism Northern Ontario’s summit and promoting the Island at the Toronto International Bicycle Show in March. These two powerhouses of the pedal, along with MICA’s board and members, sponsor businesses and organizations are the wind behind all those bikes touring the highways and byways of the Island.
“In 2017,” says Ms Mielonen, “there was a 6.1% increase in cycle passengers on the ferry, in contrast to the .2% increase in general ferry passengers. Five thousand eight hundred and thirty-four bicycles were counted on the ferry, including walk-ons and bikes on cars. And in June, of course, the Passage Ride was sold out.”
MICA’s annual signature event on June 2 and 3 this year includes free passage on the Chi-Cheemaun for participants and their bikes, free luggage shuttle to their choice of accommodations (pre-booked by participants) in which to hang their helmets for two nights, a dinner and dance on Saturday night and a musical community lunch on Sunday. The Passage Ride is supported both days with mechanical breakdown assistance and aid stations strategically positioned along three different routes.
Initiated in 2017, MICA’s ‘Cycle Adventures’ offer longer (five-day) touring packages in June and September on long or short routes, with four nights in a lakeside lodge or cottage, four breakfasts, lunches and dinners, free ferry passage and lots more. Last June, two intrepid cyclists booked the first package and in September, there were ten riders eager to explore Manitoulin’s spectacular scenery and amenities.
MICA’s working partners now include the Tourism Ontario Product Development Team, Northeastern Ontario Tourism and other arms of government (notably the Ministries of Transportation (MTO), and of Tourism, Culture and Sport, in the development of safe cycling routes and programs on the Island.
Thanks to MICA’s multi-pronged vision and strategy to increase cycling, Manitoulin is part of the Georgian Bay Cycling Route – a thousand-mile signed route that encircles the Georgian Bay, winds through the Island to Sudbury before turning south again – itself a part of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail which ultimately will connect to Sault Ste-Marie via the Lake Huron North Channel Route, opening more and more of Northeastern Ontario to safe cycle travel.
MICA’s tireless lobbying efforts at the highest levels resulted in getting Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to begin adding bicycle-friendly paved shoulders on the Island’s highways, starting with the stretch between South Baymouth, the ferry’s port, up Highway 6 to Ten Mile Point; the next stretch, from there to Little Current, will be completed in 2018, as will the northward route from Little Current to Espanola, connecting north and south with paved shoulders for the first time, starting from Mar on the Bruce Peninsula. Also due to MICA, paved shoulders were incorporated into the upgrading of Highway 551 between M’Chigeeng First Nation and the town of Mindemoya in 2016.
These are huge victories, as those who rode the Island’s previous shoulder-less incarnations will attest.
Sometimes the powers that be act in mysterious ways, too, as MICA discovered after lobbying for over three years with the support of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation (AOK) to get the MTO to pave the shoulders of Highway 540 in the resurfacing work being done last year from Little Current to Honora, passing through AOK. No response. The resurfacing started and when it was finished, lo and behold, there were paved shoulders the whole way! MICA’s work with AOK culminated in much-improved ease of access and safety for bicyclists in that community who travel to school, shopping or jobs in Little Current, close by yet too far to travel daily without public transportation.
The “surprise” shoulder paving of Highway 540 is like a beacon of hope to MICA for the future of bike infrastructure improvements on Manitoulin, as it was followed shortly after with a letter from the MTO to Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin, also a strong supporter of MICA’s mission. It outlines support for infrastructure projects related to “promoting cycling and cycling safety in the province” such as improvements to various roads that are part of the Georgian Bay Cycling Route, including those on the Island. More interestingly, there is an acknowledgement by the MTO of “the role that Highway 540 plays in supporting cycling in the community” in their decision (albeit announced after the fact) to add shoulders to that summer’s paving west of Little Current to Honora and, when work on the highway improvements recommences, the hope is that the paved shoulders will continue on to M’Chigeeng, and Kagawong and Gore Bay.
While the letter does not explicitly mention adding paved shoulders in further resurfacing projects, Guy Nielen says, “We’re hopeful that the bike route that has been initiated on Hwy 540 will continue in the next phase of highway rehabilitation.” MICA’s board plans to discuss “further efforts” as the next MTO project unrolls between Honora and Kagawong this summer.
And so, Island cyclists, MICA’s got your backs, powered by fierce commitment and resourcefulness to ensure safe, accessible and pleasurable pedalling now and into the future.