OFF BEAT: Bicycling growing in Streator - The Times: Columnists

OFF BEAT: Bicycling growing in Streator

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Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2014 9:13 pm

Now is the right time to own a mountain bike in Streator.

Traditionally, options have been limited when it comes to bicycling events or trails in the city, meaning most riders traveled out of town to the Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail or Mattheissen State Park to stretch their legs.

The blossoming of an event at Marilla Park and plans of building trails are changing that.

For the third year in a row, the Illinois Valley Cycling Association will host the Dirty Muddr at Marilla Park on Saturday, April 27.

In its first year, it attracted 19 riders, but last year, it drew more than 120 — packing the park. Event organizer and IVCA President Bob Sandy believes the event will grow even more this year.

The 35- or 62-mile ride tackles rolling hills of gravel, dirt and grass pathways to attract outdoor enthusiasts. A big part of the event's growth is attributed to its sponsorship. Streator Tourism, Streator Dependable, M&M Plumbing and a number of other businesses have chipped in to provide a top-notch event, Sandy said.

Food and home-brewed beer is served, adding to what's become similar to a "family reunion."

"It doesn't matter the weather, it's a good time," he told me. "And we'll feed you. If you leave hungry, that's your fault."

Additionally, Dave Neumann, who recently moved back to Streator from out of state, has been working with the city to adopt mountain bike trails at Marilla Park and along the Vermilion River.

Working off the Vermilion River Greenway Plan developed in 2012, Neumann is trying to get trail marking and building in motion as the weather warms.

The city applied for a $400,000 Open Space Land and Acquisition Development Grant through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to build a mini-park and implement one and a half miles of the backbone of a trail system from Cedar Street to First Street.

The total cost is expected to be $850,000. The majority of the remaining funding would come from $400,000 the city received from ComEd in lieu of building a bridge for the city in a land swap agreement.

The idea is to eventually build a trail and park system along the river that may be able to connect into larger trail systems near Starved Rock State Park and the Illinois River.

Neumann is taking initiative to keep the plan in motion, volunteering to do what he can and rounding up support from the community.

The trails wouldn't be limited to bicyclists and could provide a recreational attraction for residents, visitors and people looking to move to Streator.

"People want to come out and do something," said Diane Bausman, executive director of Blackhawk Waterways in Northwest Illinois. More and more, tourism and a community's quality of life are being measured by its recreational activities, she said.

Streator may not have been a bicyclist's dream, but a growing event and the hope of a new trail system could mean it's time to air up those tires.

For more information or to preregister for the Dirty Muddr, go to bikeiv.org/dirty_mudder.html, or sign up the day of the ride. Preregistration will include a free stem spacer/bottle opener. Cost is $30 for those who preregister, $35 same day and includes promotional items and post-ride food.

Go to ci.streator.il.us/documents/2012GreenwayMasterPlan.pdf to view the city's Greenway Plan.

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