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Bike and Walk Advocacy and Education in Greater Mankato

This month’s Bike Walk Leadership Network webinar featured longtime advocates in Mankato, Minnesota. Panelists discussed the beginnings of the Greater Mankato Bike and Walk Advocates, the Mankato River Ramble, their advocacy work for the region, and how they support bike education and safety through bike fleets and the Walk! Bike! Fun! curriculum in local schools. We learned so much from our panelists, we encourage you to check out the highlights below and watch the full replay available on YouTube.

Lee Gankse – Greater Mankato Bike and Walk Advocates

Lee serves as a Board member for the Greater Mankato Bike and Walk Advocates (GMBWA). GMBWA began in 2010 as a sub-committee of BikeMN organized with a Board and no membership fee to join. In Lee’s words, GMBWA works to provide advocacy, education, and encouragement for the region.

A trail system map that the group helped officials and staff with.

A large advocacy effort underway today is the St. Peter-Mankato trail connection, which has been in the works for a long time. This 10-mile connection would further an attempt to have one continuous trail from the start of the Minnesota River to the confluence in the Twin Cities. Lee said their efforts have been in communicating with local groups and organizations as they prepare for a long road ahead trying to find funding and gather community support for the project. GMBWA has also been essential in working alongside planners and city and county officials for new trail maps and wayfinding projects. The group’s perspectives and knowledge of well-traveled biking and walking routes make them a go-to resource for the region.

The high school mountain biking team practicing on Mount Kato

Lee also talked about community-wide encouragement efforts and educational opportunities. Mankato’s High School Mountain Biking team receives support from the Greater Mankato Bike and Walk Advocates, and Lee says supporting this local team expands the bike culture and overall interest in biking for the community. GMBWA also works together with local bike shops, including nonprofit bike shops, and Bicycle Friendly Businesses to encourage more community awareness and advocacy toward bicycle education, safety, and infrastructure development.

Finally, the Mankato River Ramble is one of the largest events in the region and is put on by the Greater Mankato Bike and Walk Advocates and BikeMN. Not only does the Ramble provide funding for the Greater Mankato Bike and Walk Advocates, but it also helps bring everyone together for a great ride. The Mankato River Ramble is a family-friendly event, celebrating the best bike routes, baked goods, and live music to be found in Southern Minnesota. Beyond rivers and lakes, waterfalls, and award-winning pies; it showcases one of the largest artworks in the state — a ten-story-tall silo mural by Guido van Helten that honors Native Americans who have lived here for untold generations.

The Ramble is also a great avenue to make connections and longtime partnerships. Visit Mankato supports the ride as a large attraction and encouragement effort, and has been supportive of the Ramble since the start! This partnership has also translated to greater support in local advocacy efforts, especially with wayfinding and mapping efforts. These partnerships are crucial in local advocacy and securing funding for the group. Outside of the Ramble, the group is supported through small community grants, and strong partnerships with their local SHIP coordinator, local public health officials, and City and County officials to help secure funding and grant opportunities. Additionally, Tom and Lee talked about their strong partnerships with local medical and health organizations, like The Orthopaedic & Fracture Clinic, River’s Edge Hospital and Clinic, and the Mayo Clinic, which supports biking and walking as a preventative and community-wide health initiative.

“The Mankato River Ramble is really a fun, community event that brings people from all over the area, and across state lines, together as a way to encourage more riding. We always think about how we can get people whose bikes have been sitting in the garage for months or those who ride all the time for commuting, out more. There’s live music, good food, we always have beautiful weather!”

Tom Engstrom Greater Mankato Bike and Walk Advocates

The adjustable bike fleet for the region

The group facilitates educational opportunities for local schools through their bike fleets and by using BikeMN’s Walk! Bike! Fun! curriculum. About four or five years ago, GMBWA was planning on using funds from the River Ramble for a bike fleet to use in local elementary schools for bicycle safety and education courses. At that time, the group was ready to purchase the bike fleet and trailer after local educators committed to teaching the Walk! Bike! Fun! Curriculum. Then, the Superbowl came to Minnesota. Their local Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) coordinator applied for available funding, and successfully got two bike fleets and trailers for the region! The fleet has adjustable frames, handlebars, and seats and can fit children from third grade to adults.

Tom talked about how the Greater Mankato Bike and Walk Advocates supports educational opportunities for the region through transporting bike fleets and finding volunteers for riding and bicycle maintenance. The group works with the Mankato School District for education and bike safety efforts and retains ownership of the fleet including maintenance and transportation for the trailers. Demand increases in April and May, and then again in September and October. Thanks to the GMBWA’s Education Committee, they are able to schedule, transport, and maintain the bikes to serve 8-10 schools in Mankato and even in Lake Crystal. Educators often request volunteers for kids who have little experience on bikes, and with the larger community ride that takes place at the end of the curriculum. Both Tom and Lee highlighted a local volunteer, Richard Kier, for his dedication to bike safety and education opportunities for kids without much bike experience. It’s thanks to volunteers that GMBWA’s education efforts are so successful, and capable volunteers keep the cost of maintenance down for the entire bike fleet! Outside of bike safety and education efforts in local schools, the group also holds a number of bike rodeos throughout the summer.

“When we think about all of our efforts in education and encouragement – like bike education in schools, the River Ramble, or supporting the high school mountain biking team and our nonprofit bike shops – we’re really thinking about how these things translate into more everyday ridership for fun or for commuting.”

After both speakers shared their insights, attendees had time for a Q&A with both panelists, Lee and Tom. In closing remarks, Leadership Network host and BikeMN staff Natalie Gille shared information about upcoming rides like the Tour of Saints, Saint Paul Classic, and Mankato River Ramble.

We hope you enjoyed this brief recap of the May Bike Walk Leadership Network Webinar. If you missed it, don’t worry! You can watch the full webinar on BikeMN’s YouTube channel here. The Bike Walk Leadership Network meets every third Wednesday around the lunch hour (11:30 am) via Zoom with the purpose of connecting local leaders to share stories and ideas on how they are lifting the walking and bing culture in their communities. 

If you haven’t already signed up for the group, we want you to come along for the ride! Learn more about the Bike Walk Leadership Network and sign up for the group here.

Join us for July’s webinar on July 20th, where we’ll hear from local leaders about Bikeable Community Workshops. We’re excited to learn from local changemakers and advocates about the work it takes to plan and create a bike-friendly community where everyone can easily move by bike.