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Tuesday, 02 September 2014 00:00

Biking the Wisconsin-Illinois Stateline: Cycling group charts new paths

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STATELINE NEWS -- For the Stateline Spinners, the bicycle map and route information they used for their regular excursions often was lacking, so they did something about it. Now, other cyclists in the Stateline can enjoy the benefits.

They got together and collected their favorite routes to produce a book that could serve as a comprehensive guide to local biking.

Several weeks ago, their book "Greater Beloit Rides" hit select local shelves, including Visit Beloit, Beloit Bicycle Company and various Illinois and Wisconsin welcome centers.

The book maps out 33 different bike routes throughout the greater Beloit area that have been meticulously planned and researched by the Stateline Spinners cycling group.

Read the current edition here: http://www.server-jbmultimedia.net/CSI-StatelineNewsSunday

"We actually have two books; one is completely free and it’s in color and it highlights 10 bike routes throughout the area," said Visit Beloit Executive Director Monica Krysztopa. "Then there is another spiral-bound one that we are selling for $10 that includes many more routes."

Krysztopa is especially excited about the project because it was an opportunity for Visit Beloit, Downtown Beloit Association and the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce to collaborate with a group of volunteering residents. The Stateline Spinners, who volunteered their time, were able to pool their resources with the tourism organizations and produce something that not only will be useful to local biking enthusiasts, but visitors as well.

"Before, we basically just used road maps, and we finally discovered that there weren’t very many good bike routes on maps that pertained to northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin," said Rick Barder of the Stateline Spinners. "Seven or eight of us decided last year that we should try to put together some maps. It took us about six months; we’d meet on Saturday mornings and work together and design the routes, and then we wrote a little narrative on each. Eventually, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to do it right without a little money, so we applied for a Visit Beloit grant."

Fortunately, Krysztopa and the Stateline Community Foundation always are on the lookout for projects just like Barder’s to fund through its Joint Effort Tourism, or J.E.T., grant program.

"They came to Visit Beloit and asked us what we thought about it," Kysztopa said. "We thought it was a great idea and gave them lots of support and input. We were able to help them fund the development and printing through a J.E.T. grant. The grant is offered through the Stateline Community Foundation to help increase the experience of our community and attract visitors. In this case, we were doubly pleased because we think our residents can enjoy these, but also visitors coming to our community."

Shortly after receiving the grant, Barder and the Spinners went back to work, but this time, with a little bit of funding, they could get the printing and cartography help they were hoping for. Barder, who was inspired by a guide he’d seen for Madison bike trails, decided to get in touch with the person who’d put it together. When cartographer Francis Stanton of Eagle Eye Maps in Madison joined the effort, the new routes really started taking shape. But if you ask Barder, "Greater Beloit Rides" even has a leg up on the Madison route book.

"The book Stanton did for Madison was not available online; in other words you could only buy a hard copy of the book," Barder said. "In our book, you can go to the Stateline Spinners website and all 33 routes we put together are available for you to print or download to your smartphone."

Although the book’s release is still fresh, Barder feels that the response has been great. The members of the Stateline Spinners are excited to see their work come full circle and are already getting use out of it.

"The people that worked on this, I was far from being the only one, feel very good about it. They are energized by it," said Barder.

Barder also feels good about the fact that any money the book earns will be going back to Visit Beloit to fund further tourism endeavors. The Stateline Spinners, he says, isn’t a club with a bank account and a charter of its own -- it’s a group that is an important distinction.

"We’re not a club, just a riding group, there’s a difference," Barder said. "We don’t have dues, no bank account or meetings. The Stateline Spinners is just a riding group that started about 10 years ago with 5-10 people and grew from there. Some of the clubs out there get pretty intense. Many of them are male dominated, but we have a lot of ladies that ride with us and feel comfortable and as a group we want to appeal to all levels of riders and promote the sport of cycling."

If you’re an avid cyclist interested in the new biking routes, a great companion to picking up the book may be actually going out on a few rides with the Stateline Spinners, who ride several times a week and are open to new members of all skill levels. 

"A good way to get involved would be to just go to our website and sign up for the weekly newsletter," said Barder. "It talks about rides in the community and our weekly rides. It’s a good way to get plugged in."

Barder is hoping that the group’s effort will boost the profile of cycling for both current resident and any visitor to our area. He feels that nationally, sports enthusiasts are gravitating toward biking, and he’d love the opportunity to make even more routes if the demand is there.

"There’s nothing more that I’d like to do than go ahead and do this all again in another three years or so with more bike paths," Barder said. "I think biking is becoming the new golf. Corporations are getting riding groups together because it’s healthy and it doesn’t have an environmental impact."

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