JACKSON - Many years and a community-wide effort can be attributed to Jackson’s recent bicycling-friendly community distinction.
From multiple capacities and efforts over the years by Jackson-area government agencies, special interest groups and the community, Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota recently recognized Jackson at bronze-level distinction. Jackson is one of 23 bicycling friendly communities across the state and 450 communities nationwide, the majority of which are more densely populated than the southwest Minnesota community’s approximately 3,300 residents.
“It’s great for rural communities like Jackson to have this type of award, even though we’re so small compared to the metro area or even over in Worthington,” said Des Moines Valley Health and Human Services Public Health Educator Luke Ewald about the distinction.
Beginning in 2017, Ewald - who also works with Community Wellness Partners of Nobles, Cottonwood and Jackson counties - coordinated with various Jackson community members, special interest organizations and other third-party agencies to help improve bicycling functionality throughout Jackson. Ewald, with input from various groups, completed the in-depth application, which evaluated the community on a variety of bicycling-centered criteria including engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation, and planning.
What Ewald considers crucial to earning the distinction includes the city’s approximately nine miles of nearly-connected paved trails, the Friends of the Jackson County Trails advocacy group and Jackson’s bike shop, Ezekiel's Wheel, which has been owned and operated for the last two and a half years by local bike enthusiasts Sam and Emily Espy.
“If we didn’t have a bike shop or a connected trial system, I honestly think we would not have gotten this recognition,” Ewald said. “Trails is a safety thing - it creates that sense of safety.”
On its returned evaluation by The League of American Bicyclists, application reviewers noted Jackson’s active bicycle advocacy group, Friends of the Jackson County Trails, and the city government’s implementation of bicycle-friendly laws and ordinances as strong suits.
Active since 1999, Friends of the Jackson County Trials is responsible for Jackson’s approximately nine miles of nearly-connected bike trails. The committee invites public participation through its adopt a trail program, which allows community members, businesses or organizations to adopt a trail to see that litter is kept at minimum and the trail is groomed.
“Stuff like that helps getting bike friendliness, because people are committed to keeping the trails safe and clean,” said Ewald, who is also a trails committee member.
Nonprofit organization co-founder and treasurer Lynne Anderson said the community’s increased interest in the trails group has been exciting, but called achieving bicycling friendly status “icing on the cake.”
“This gives you statewide recognition, and that’s so good,” Anderson said.
Anderson, along with Wilma Pell and JoAnna Asa, got the group up and running to secure grant funding to bolster southwest Minnesota’s bicycling opportunities.
Despite achieving the distinction, there’s still work to be done, Ewald said.
Potential future improvements to Jackson’s bicycle community include creating a bicycle count program, adopting more educational opportunities for adults and teenagers in regard to sharing the road, enhancing the Safe Routes to School program, encouraging local businesses to promote commuter cycling and creating a bicycling master plan.
But, Ewald notes, the distinction recognizes the continued progress the community has made, particularly in the last seven years. In 2011, a bicycling friendly community application was submitted, but the community did not receive distinction.
Ewald is hopeful that the distinction will continue to enhance tourism and attractiveness of the town.
“It’s good for business and it attracts tourists,” Ewald said of the bicycling friendly community recognition. “For a lot of people, especially younger folks, it’s a place to go and live, learn, work and play.”
Friends of the Jackson County Trails President Dave DeJong explained how it was a team effort, including the committee and support from the city and county, that led to a successful distinction this time go around.
“It takes everybody,” he said. “It really does.”