By: Pam Vruwink
Willmar Bikes is a bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group dedicated to making biking and walking fun, safe, and easy for everyone. We are excited to become a new chapter of BikeMN! It’s truly an honor to join one of the premier bike organizations in the country that works so hard on behalf of active mobility initiatives.
The City of Willmar is a community of approximately 20,000 people located 90 miles west of the metro area. Our group consists of a wide variety of community members including bike enthusiasts and representatives from Carris Health, City of Willmar Public Works and Parks & Recreation departments, Kandiyohi County Public Health and Public Works departments, Mid-Minnesota Development Commission, Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, Willmar Lakes Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Willmar Public Schools Community Education.
Our biggest achievement in the past five years has been to earn and maintain bronze-level Bike Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists! Some of the infrastructure successes we’ve been pleased to see are the installation of a bike lane on a 40 mph street and a paved, multi-use path along a 45 mph highway. Rider support has been improved by new map kiosks and fix-it stations placed on bike routes throughout the community. Willmar Bikes has been instrumental in bringing a bike share and bike fleet to the community. The launch of the Cycling Without Age program has been a neat way to get senior citizens at care facilities outside and engaged even if they aren’t doing the pedaling themselves anymore. Our group’s current priorities are improving the connectivity and infrastructure of our bike route network, offering bike events and engagement opportunities, and providing rider support and encouragement.
Community activities have been a high priority of ours and we appreciate the opportunity to be invited to participate in a variety of events. Annual celebrations such as the Mayor’s Bike Ride and hosting the bike corral at the outdoor summer concert series gather participation from people of all ages while setting up a bike rodeo at various community and school events have been a great way to reach new and young riders. Willmar will be the start/finish of a new event this fall, the MN Gravel 160!
If you find yourself in our neck of the woods, we hope you’ll consider going for a ride on the Glacial Lakes State Trail and Eagle Lake Trail. The Glacial Lakes State Trailhead is located in northeast Willmar- riders travel through farmland, prairie, and wetlands on the 22-mile long paved trail that follows a former Burlington Northern Railroad grade. Starting in the same area is the 7.5 mile Eagle Lake Trail that provides a gently rolling loop around Eagle Lake. If an off-road experience is more to your liking, you’ll find four miles of mountain bike trails nearby at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center. Perfect conditions for beginner and intermediate riders.