What’s in store for the unofficial Ann Arbor Garden Mountain Bike Loop?

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ANN ARBOR, MI – Ask any mountain bike enthusiast in Ann Arbor where they’ll be riding and chances are you’ll hear the words “local loop.”

The roughly 18 mile course encompasses nearly a dozen urban nature areas, winding single-track trails from the north Olson Park to stomach-pumping descents on the steep banks of the Huron River in the Cedar Bend Natural Area.

It crosses two dams, tunnels under M-14 and briefly hops on the Washtenaw County border-to-border trail, while mostly managing to stay on multi-use wooded trails shared with dog walkers, cross-country skiers and others.

The exact route varies slightly depending on who you ask (and where they’re pedaling from to reach it) and is firmly unofficial, mostly without the signage and difficulty ratings that distinguish bike-optimized trail systems from mountain as the newest. DTE Energy Foundation Trails some 25 miles west near Chelsea.

But it’s also accessible without a car from points near the city center, while being customizable to accommodate a variety of skill levels.

The loop is the product of a “nearly three-decade history” of trail building and cycling activism in Ann Arbor – both underground and official – and includes a number of smaller connecting trails, “gems which are not widely known, said Garret Potter, a member of a local cycling advocacy group, is now pushing officials to better embrace the cycling community whose ranks are only growing.

Among the demands Potter and other advocates have made to the city’s Parks Advisory Board in a presentation last November was a request to map trails as the local loop, formalizing protocols for maintenance, improvement and signage.

Volunteers have put in hundreds of hours building and maintaining the loop over the years, mowing when the grasses choke the trail in the summer and clearing downed trees. Among them is Carl Loomis, president of the Potawatomi Mountain Biking Association, the local chapter of a national network of mountain biking organizations, and a frequent cyclist and guardian of local trails.

Much of the loop’s connective tissue—such as the trail between Whitmore Lake Road and Pontiac Trail that runs under the freeway—was laid out by association volunteers in the 1990s, along with the trails at Olson Park, some of the only signed parts of the road, coming in the early 2000s, he said.

But there are obstacles to making the loop official, including fighting shortcuts that cross private property or train tracks. Not to mention the magnitude of the loop.

“It’s just a big undertaking,” Loomis said, referring to parks like the Bluffs and Kuebler Langford’s natural areas where trails weave indoors and outdoors. “There’s a lot of spaghetti in there.”

Yet while for years the route flew under the radar, spreading by word of mouth, Loomis sees city officials looking at the local loop in a different light now.

“They’re starting to see it as an asset rather than a liability,” he said.

Last year, the course appeared on the Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation websitepart of a new addition to the bike recreation page that has transformed it from “almost non-existent” into a fairly comprehensive resource outlining area trails, volunteer opportunities and more, according to the recreation supervisor of the city, Erika Smith.

“I think we’d like to formalize, promote and have more information on this,” Smith said, referring to the work of a Parks Advisory Board subcommittee that is currently exploring a range of recreational improvements to bike, from a new asphalt pump track to upgrades. at the motocross jump areas of the Bandemer and Tübingen parks, both along the local loop.

Read more: Ann Arbor wants to create a bicycle pump track. So what is it?

The Tuebingen Drops and Skills Zone, just north of Leslie Park Golf Course, is an example of an underground spot reborn as a recognized cycling facility.

“Part of the land moved and for a long time the city wasn’t really ready to claim this as one of our own,” Smith said. After volunteers asked for the “hidden” jumps to be recognized by the city, they now have a new kiosk and signage that lists rules and safety guidelines, Smith said.

A sign near the dirt and bike skill jump area in Tuebingen Park in Ann Arbor, pictured Tuesday, July 12, 2022, lists park rules and warns cyclists of potential hazards.Lucas Smolcic Larson | [email protected]

In the case of the local loop, the railroads and private ownership posed barriers to its promotion, as is usually the case, Smith said. The city’s website notes that using these areas is not legal and links to a map with the outlines of the parts of the off-road loop which are part of the natural spaces of the city.

Still, the parks and recreation official said, there are legal pathways to connect natural areas, often short stretches on roads between trails.

One of the objectives of the sub-committee is to inventory and study all the paths taken by people taking advantage of technology such as Strava heatmapa tool in the exercise tracker app that provides data on the routes taken by users around the world.

Currently, the city does not have a staff or bicycle recreation program, but officials recognize that the community is growing and the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an increase in residents exploring places in their backyards. , Smith said.

For Potter, the cycling advocate, the ongoing efforts are laying the groundwork for more people to feel safe jumping on a bike and heading into the woods or to jumps in Ann Arbor.

“The city is full of basketball courts, baseball diamonds,” Potter said, but it also has thousands of cyclists and at least 11 bike shops. If the trails and the places they run are more formalized, more people will feel comfortable using them, he added.

More from Ann Arbor News:

Connector will provide “safe passage” between 2 Washtenaw County mountain bike loops

What’s new for the Washtenaw County Border-to-Border Trail? See the latest plans

Controlled burns in natural areas around Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor will add bike lanes and eliminate parking along Barton Drive

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