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Doing good on the trails: How cyclists can raise money and awareness with a ride

Johannah Jelks

From supporting women cyclists to raising money for Habitat for Humanity, West Michiganders can have fun on the trails this spring - and contribute to a good cause while they're at it.
Raising money and awareness for a good cause is no easy task, and convincing people to exercise can also be struggle. Here in West Michigan, trail enthusiasts have combined these two tricky tasks into fun and friendly events that invite people outdoors, taking to the trails and raising funds and awareness for causes for which they are passionate. From Habitat for Humanity to women on the trails, the month of May packs a punch with bike rides that showcase the heart of some of West Michigan's most vibrant causes.

"What's it like to be a girl riding her bike?" asks Johannah Jelks, founder of She Rides Her Own Way, an organization that promotes healthy living and exercising among women. Through group bike rides and events, Jelks poses this question and seeks to explore fitness culture from a female point of view. Starting She Rides in 2014 with the goal to "encourage women to get out and get involved in biking,” Jelks has done just that in the span of just a couple years.

Growing up in Eastown in the 1990s, Jelks was not exposed to biking on the trails. Later introduced to the sport as an adult, Jelks saw the potential for biking as a vital part of healthy living, especially for urbanites. "It's a different lifestyle," Jelks notes in regards to living downtown and not having access to or education about various outdoor activities.

This May, for the first time, Jelks is hosting the She Rides Her Own Way YOLO ("You Only Live Once") group ride on the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park on Saturday, May 14. "The goal of it is to make it a friendship ride," says Jelks. "People can take their time." After a yoga session in Riverside Park at 1pm, riders will begin the 11-mile ride to Rockford Brewing Company. "It's not a competition; it's not a race," says Jelks, who will celebrate riders with a late lunch and craft beer. Most of all, it's "just kind of a group of girls who wanted to go out and ride," she says. Another perk? The event is free.

On Saturday, May 28, a ride of longer distances will seek to raise awareness—and funding—for another outdoors cause: the trails themselves. The Goldspike Trail Tour III will invite riders to travel 20, 41, 60, and 100 kilometers "to make people familiar with the trail," says Tim Nink, vice president of the Friends of Musketawa and Fred Meijer Berry Junction Trails and organizer of the event. The Goldspike tour will begin in Walker on the Musketawa Trail and cover the various distances to the Fred Meijer Pioneer Trails. With just a $25 entrance fee, riders can participate and are provided an event t-shirt, with all proceeds going to the Friends of the Musketawa Trails, a group that assists in maintenance and promotion of the green space.

The Goldspike ride is celebrating its third occurrence after its first ride in 2000 (just after the trail was completed) and 2014 (after Nink took over planning). With cyclists of all ability levels—including couples, retirees and even professionals—Nink describes the event as "just a recreational ride" designed to make trail riding accessible for all.

Montcalm County residents look forward to a trail event that also welcomes a variety of cyclists. "It's pretty family oriented," says Alex Hamman, Habitat for Humanity's ReStore Manager in Montcalm and organizer of Spin the Spoke for Habitat on Saturday, May 21.

With a bevy of distance options—eight, 25, 36 and 50 miles—on the Fred Meijer Flat River Valley and Fred Meijer Heartland Trails, Spin the Spoke is accessible to those with young children, those simply seeking a fun ride on the trails and hard core cyclists who utilize the 50-mile option as a training session for future events. With a start time of 10am and an end time of 3pm, cyclists have all day to finish the ride. "It's pretty easy to complete for most of them," says Hamman. Volunteers will also be available throughout the ride to provide light snacks, first aid and ride support.

With just a $30 entrance fee (either paid or fundraised), and Meijer making up the rest of the event costs, riders can contribute to the cause of Habitat for Humanity of Montcalm County, a county-level version of Habitat for Humanity International, which is celebrating 25 years of building homes for those in need. Participants can even register the day of the event. "We'd love to have people come out and join," says Hamman.

Cyclists in West Michigan can have fun and contribute to a good cause while they're at it. Whether it’s a passion for the trails themselves or a desire to make healthy living accessible to diverse groups, West Michigan's trails and greenways provide a convenient and aesthetic platform. In the month of May, be sure to check out one or more of these great events, and also enjoy the trails.

This article is part of an ongoing series, Moments on the Trails, and was made possible by the West Michigan Trails & Greenways Coalition. For more information about the WMTGC, visit wmtrails.org.

Photography by Adam Bird
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