June 24, 2013

Active Towns Blog #2

Active Towns Tour Heads to the MidWest 

Tomorrow I will load up the Active Towns Tour Bus, well okay it’s my trusty 2004 Honda Element – chosen because of its uncanny ability to carry lot’s of bikes and gear and stuff, to hit the road for Minnesota and Michigan, with likely stops in Illinois and Wisconsin along the way.

This is a special trip for me personally as it provides me a chance to connect with friends, old and new, as I share the Active Towns message and document some pretty amazing transformative work being done in this region.

As chance would have it, this morning the 2013 ACSM American Fitness Index report was brought to my attention and there was Minneapolis topping the charts. Surprising? Well, not really. The Twin Cities region has been showing up on many such livability reports and Minneapolis seems to be a perennial candidate for top billing in Bicycling Magazine’s America’s Top 50 Bike Friendly Cities.

So this trip will include a couple days in Minneapolis and a visit up the road to Brainerd, MN. Now Brainerd admittedly does not show up on any fittest or healthiest cities reports that I know of, but the Baxter/Brainerd area is home to Mr. Charles Marohn and the Strong Towns organization. This non-profit and dare I say movement that Chuck has started is really picking up momentum across the country and I am looking forward a brief visit with this very busy man before making my over to Ann Arbor via the northern route and the Michigan’s upper peninsula.

This portion of the trip is admittedly a bit more personal in that it will take me a bit longer  to complete and there really aren’t that many places that I know of along the way that would be considered widely known, established Active Towns. However, I am curious about Duluth, MN – home to the famous Grandma’s Marathon, one of the most popular events on the running calendar nationally and it will mark it’s 38th year in 2014. To be fair, it’s actually several races of varying distances across an entire weekend celebration of fitness and active living.

Signature events such as Grandma’s have an interesting effect on the host community. Yes, lot’s of people come in from neighboring regions and if the event reaches a status of national prominence, then even from around the country, which is certainly great for the local economy. But something else happens as well. The local community members tend to start getting caught up in the excitement and fun associated with all this energetic human movement. As more and more of the residents of the host community start to participate the seeds of an active culture germinate, bloom and flourish.

Sometimes the events are born in emerging or established Active Towns and other times a successful event can help to create an Active Town. So, that’s why I am quite curious about Duluth and look forward to poking around up there. Hmmm… maybe I’ll even consider putting one of the Grandma’s races on my calendar for next year.

Other stops already on the agenda include Ann Arbor, MI, home to the University of Michigan, where I completed my graduate work. Chicago, IL where I lived briefly in the mid-1990’s. And perhaps even Madison, WI a place I remember fondly from when I completed the 2005 Ironman Wisconsin triathlon and is home to my friend Rob Verhelst.

I am sure there will be many other stops to explore along the way. It’s fortunate that I have plenty of time to complete this trip, as I do not need to be back in Boulder until July 11th or 12th, therefore I am afforded the opportunity get off the beaten path (interstate highways) to see what little Active Towns gems might be out there hiding in plain sight in the countryside.

Please feel free to give us your comments and/or suggestions for emerging and established Active Towns on our websiteFacebook page or by email to: info@activetowns.org

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Thank you for helping create and support Active Towns everywhere!

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John D Simmerman, MS
Co-Founder, President & CEO
Advocates for Healthy Communities, Inc.
Actives Towns Initiative