Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates reflect on successful year at AGM

The Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates held its annual general meeting in Mindemoya this past Monday. In photo, left to right, is Heidi Krieger, Peter Ford, Maja Mielonen, Steve Hart and Sandy Cook. PHOTO BY JASON FORREST

MINDEMOYA—Cycling through Manitoulin Island may seem daunting to some, but to others there is no better adventure than riding the hills, pastures and fields, admiring the wildlife and the landscape as they soak in the flavour of the region.

Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA) held its annual general meeting at Central Manitoulin Public School, May 16. Many topics were covered, including slide shows of all-inclusive cycling vacations around the world, Manitoulin Island Passage Ride in June, MICA’s Way Finding Grant through FedNor, and an Ontario by Bike Workshop for cycle friendly businesses, among other topics.

“Guy and I initially started MICA in 2010 to advocate for paved shoulders on Manitoulin Island; we got Highway 6 and from there it just snowballed into what we are doing now,” Maja Mielonen, a MICA board member, said.

Since 2010, MICA has lobbied for paved shoulders on Hwy. 551 and continues to lobby for Hwy. 540 to Gore Bay. They celebrated their sixth Manitoulin Passage Ride last June on the shoulders of Hwy 551 with newly designed jerseys. By the end of last year, the third edition of the MICA cycle routes map was printed, boasting over 800 kilometres of cycle routes on Manitoulin Island; and an estimated 11,000 copies have been distributed since the first edition.

Pam Jackson, treasurer for MICA, went over the financial report ending December 31, 2016. Notable was the Manitoulin Island Passage Ride revenue from 2012-2016. Total revenue increased from $4,585 to $20,422 in five years. This doesn’t include the money people spent on the Island while they peddle the highways.

“A lot of people from the communities we involve make money from the passage ride as well; restaurants and organizations that prepare food and fare and  local musicians are also employed,” Ms. Mielonen said. “The Lions Club, and last year the Triangle Club, got involved and benefitted as well. That’s not to speak of the accommodations booked throughout the off-season, bringing in more tourism dollars. For example, the prior owners of Auberge Inn said 15 percent of their annual income comes from cyclists. These are  considerable numbers and we are working on increasing them.”

Ms. Mielonen said up to 95 percent of registrants for the Passage Ride are off-Island tourists. Most come to cycle solo, but they also bring their family along for the trip.

Last year, the Chi-Cheemaun ferry counted over 5,500 cyclists boarding for Manitoulin Island, she said. Over 85 percent come with their bike strapped to their vehicle.

The Passage Ride, which has been running since 2011, takes cyclists across the routes on Manitoulin Island, providing ride insurance, lunch, dinner, entertainment and mechanical and ride support throughout the weekend. This year the passage ride will coincide with the 150 year Ontario celebration, June 4 and 5. Manitoulin Island residents are encouraged to register for free for the Sunday ride, including a lunch and music at the Kicking Mule Ranch. Registration fee for the entire weekend is $65.

Ms. Mielonen said MICA extended an invitation to the office of the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, and Eleanor McMahon has been invited. Mike Mantha, MPP of Algoma-Manitoulin will be attending dinner.

If you have a business or organization and you are interested in attracting cyclists to your location, an Ontario by Bike, Cycle tourism workshop will be held Monday, May 29 at 2:30 pm at the Mindemoya Community Hall. The flyer explains the free workshop is open to everyone interested in the development of cycle tourism in Northern Ontario, including Manitoulin Island. The workshop will inform on how to become a certified bicycle-friendly business at no cost.

Steve Hart, board member for MICA, presented his all-inclusive cycling tour of Tuscany to the group. He presented a slideshow with pictures of rolling hills and valleys through Italy, peppered with shots of the gourmet food, pro bikes and friendly faces he encountered throughout his journey.

“We decided if we were going to go, we were going in style; we went with TREK Travel Company who’ve been in business for 40 years; they are a well-oiled machine. I highly recommend this trip; you are pampered the entire time,” Mr. Hart said. “We loved it so much we are going to Spain with TREK next time.”

Whereas Mr. Hart’s trip was a constant uphill/downhill journey, requiring the stamina to climb the Italy hills: Mary Sheppard and Willie from Kicking Mule Ranch’s all-inclusive cycling adventure through the Netherlands proved to be a smoother, flatter ride, suitable for an older demographic.

“We cycled through wonderful towns and country with lush pasture and farm animals; always on paths created specifically for cyclists,” Ms. Sheppard said. “A lot of local commuters use the paths to get to work; the area is so safe and respectful for cyclists.”

The ladies said everything was taken care of. Each day they would travel approximately 45 kilometres then retire to the boat for dinner and entertainment.

“The world offers all kinds of cycle vacations in all kinds of areas. It’s big business and many countries have taken the opportunity,” Ms. Mielonen said. “MICA has taken initiative and promoted our five day all-inclusive cycle vacations in Toronto for the end of June and the beginning of September.”

She said all partners involved are MICA members, so they use MICA partnered restaurants and accommodations throughout the cycling tour, increasing business in the off-season.

“We have two breweries, freshwater fishing and a host of other things to give a local flavor to an all-inclusive on Manitoulin Island,” she said.

Guy Nielen, Maja’s husband and MICA’s right hand man, displayed and spoke about the ads for the Chi-Cheemaun, MICA, Tourism Northern Ontario (TNO) cycling, as well as the Great Waterfront Trail in the 2017 issue of Ontario by Bike magazine.

Sandy Cook, board member of MICA, said they are in Phase 2 of the FedNor application for trailhead and wayfinding signs for MICA’s routes on the Island. Since the incorporation of MICA in 2015, they are able to complete grant applications. According to Ms. Mielonen, Tourism Northern Ontario has provided $25,000 dollars in funding and MICA, through fundraising, has come up with $10,000 dollars to provide wayfinding signs for safety purposes so no one loses their way.

To become a member or register with MICA for the upcoming Passage Ride, or for more information regarding workshops and all-inclusive packages, visit Registration deadline for the Passage Ride is Sunday, May 21.