Fresh from LA Fergus Falls is Going in Circles to Promote Bicycling (Around Lake Alice)
BikeMN held the July Bike Walk Leadership Network Webinar. The network connects local leaders to share stories and ideas about how to best uplift biking and walking in their respective communities. You can watch the full replay here and subscribe to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss any biking or walking updates from BikeMN.
Pedal Fergus Falls has two featured speakers in this month’s Bike Walk Leadership Network Webinar, and offered to give the winners of two trivia questions a free t-shirt! The trivia question you can ponder was: how many laps around Lake Alice does it take to ride a century?
Both speakers hail from Fergus Falls, this month’s spotlight community, and both are named Dave! The first speaker we heard from was Dave Jensen, or the “crazy bike guy,” an enthusiastic supporter of cycling in all of its forms. He turned his attention to cycling seriously after completing a triathlon, and then in 2013 managed to cycle across America in just 19 days to establish a scholarship for students at M-State in Fergus Falls. Dave has helped establish numerous educational and recreational opportunities and is one of the co-creators of the Lake Alice 100.
“It was born from a desire to help college students,” said Dave. As a college recruiter, Dave talked with high school students eager to learn and get an education but was dismayed to learn many students simply couldn’t afford the high cost of an education. Dave explored foundations in Fergus Falls that were supporting students and saw an opportunity to improve the scholarship fundraising with different methods. In talking with the director of the foundation, Dave learned about endowment scholarship funds, a one-time and self-sustaining gift for students. The next step was garnering support from businesses and folks in the area.
11 years ago, Dave got on his bike and rode from Fergus Falls to Duluth, arriving just as fireworks were shooting off, and decided then and there to bike across America. Dave created DreamBigTour.net to support his ride across America and fund the endowment. Over the next several months, Dave planned what he believes is the shortest route across the lower 48 and leveraged his network to garner support.
After posting on his social media that he was going to bike a century around Lake Alice, he had a few riders join him in good weather conditions, but at mile 65 the weather turned and he had to stop with the promise of completing it in April. One rider who joined was Nick Mariotti, the other co-creator of the Lake Alice 100. Nick was so impressed with Dave’s passion, he promised every rider that rode in April would generate 10 cents per lap for the endowment fund. “The person who really makes change possible is someone who jumps in with them and offers credibility,” said Dave.
And thus, the Lake Alice 100 was born! A 1.15-mile route around Lake Alice means it takes 87 laps for a full century (did you guess the correct answer?). The community rallied around the ride, establishing an area with refreshments, food, crowds of support, and music. The first Lake Alice 100 saw about 160+ riders! Dr. Carrie Brimhall, the President of M-State Fergus Falls even rode and completed the Lake Alice 100 in 2013!
The fundraising generated from the ride and motivated Dave to continue this effort. Dave credits the appeal of the Lake Alice 100 for families, extreme cyclists, and recreational cyclists alike due to the confined route. Since then, Lake Alice 100 has been able to add fireworks and bicycle repair stations to the ride. The Lake Alice 100 also helped Fergus Falls become a Bicycle Friendly Community! “I was the hype, the muscle, the passion, Dave [Sanderson] brought the strategy and know-how.”
To date, 8 students have received financial support toward their college education thanks to the Lake Alice 100!
Our next speaker for the July Webinar was Dave Sanderson. Dave worked as a family physician for 36 years, and after retirement, Dave became a League Cycling Instructor and helps people learn how to bike. He continues to enjoy gravel biking, mountain biking, and road biking.
Dave is a key member of Pedal Fergus Falls, a Chapter of BikeMN with the mission to make biking and walking easy, safe, and fun for everyone. In 2015, Fergus Falls was designated as a Bicycle Friendly Community at the Bronze level, which was then bumped up to Silver in 2019! Following the 5E’s from the League of American Bicyclists, Pedal Fergus Falls has been focused on Encouragement. Kicking things off in April with 30 Days of Biking a month-long event that encourages riding every day in April – Fergus Falls boasts about 210+ participants each year and leads Minnesota in participants per capita. In May, the Mayors Ride with Mayor Ben Schierer bolsters riding, Dave also said Mayor Schierer has been a huge asset and supporter of bicycling. The encouragement continues through the summer, with the signature ride being the Lake Alice 100.
“Everybody is able to ride in the Lake Alice 100, with as many as 200 folks riding. With no fee at all, anyone can participate,” said Dave Sanderson.
A few years into the Lake Alice 100, Pedal Fergus Falls was approached to support the ride. With an active board and numerous volunteers, Pedal Fergus Falls helps with registration the day of and provides food from local businesses and basics like water, Gatorade, and snacks. Pedal Fergus Falls also helps control traffic and table the event.
The Lake Alice 100 is really a group effort, with large support from the community. St. John’s Church is a huge asset to the ride offering their parking lots, bathrooms, and space for tabling to support the ride. The City of Fergus Falls helps ensure roads are closed and safe to ride on. Lake Regions Health Care has also helped the ride continue financially. Dave and Nick came up with the idea to purchase a bike repair station, a novel idea at the time, the bike repair station is sturdy, well built, and offers high-quality tools – placed in an ideal location right in the middle of town. With the money raised, they were able to build 8 additional bicycle repair stations with the goal to add 3 more! In partnership with the City of Fergus Falls, Pedal Fergus Falls is eager to continue adding bicycle racks and bicycle parking. Things like these benefit the riders and the community as a whole.
The other 5 E Pedal Fergus Falls emphasizes is Education – with 5 LCI’s in town, there are tons of opportunities to spread education about safe biking and walking and offer TS101 courses. Pedal Fergus Falls also hands out thousands of the Bicycling Handbook from BikeMN (get your copy here.) Another initiative they tackle is handing out blinking red lights to encourage visibility and safety while riding in the dark.
“All in all the Lake Alice 100 is just a great event for biking and for the community!” – Dave Sanderson
A few of the questions asked from the webinar included what both speakers thought made Fergus Falls so bike-friendly. Dave Sanderson answered that persistence to become a Bicycle Friendly Community encouraged more bike-friendly efforts. With 5 League Cycling Instructors promoting education and safe riding, along with events like the Lake Alice 100 with support from local businesses and the city – being bike-friendly is a group effort. The city-wide efforts to add bicycle-friendly roads and adopting a bicycle master plan have been instrumental in generating more bikers in Fergus Falls. “I think it’s a lot of effort from enthusiasts like Dave and Pedal Fergus Falls, and the city – people are just really enthusiastic about it and it’s growing and growing,” said Dave.
Another question asked about Cycling Without Age, a program started in Denmark and brought back to Fergus Falls. Pedal Fergus Falls and Pioneer Care Nursing Home raised money for a trishaw bike, allowing up to two people who may not be able to cycle to enjoy the ride and get outside. To date, Pioneer Care has purchased another Trishaw and the other nursing home in town is also able to purchase another one. With Pedal Fergus Falls leading the charge, the goal is to expand the opportunity to Cycle Without Age beyond nursing homes and to other individuals in town who may not be able to ride.
“The Pedal Fergus Falls group is a great example of spreading the message that good biking and walking is part of being a community where people want to live and support local businesses. They have had a receptive audience with businesses and the City, but Pedal Fergus Falls have been the ones that have generated the spark.” – Dorian Grilley, Executive Director of BikeMN