2018-03-15 / Life in Leelanau

Welcome to Northport: A safe, walkable and bikable community

By Jen Murphy
Of The Enterprise staff


NORTHPORT STUDENTS walk to school as a part of the Northport Strong initiative. The project is designed to promote healthy activity and lifestyles for all ages. NORTHPORT STUDENTS walk to school as a part of the Northport Strong initiative. The project is designed to promote healthy activity and lifestyles for all ages. Whether it’s with two wheels or two feet, Northport Strong wants residents to be on the move.

Northport Strong, a new initiative designed to “weave a culture of health into the fabric of Northport,” is Traverse City-based Norte’s first step into Leelanau County.

Norte Executive Director Ty Schmidt described Northport as a small, tight-knit community anchored by a fantastic school.

“We believe that kids learning to move and be physically active as part of ordinary life — like going to school or the park or the library or the beach — and then inspiring their parents, teachers, principals, neighbors to do the same is a powerful means to sustainable well-living and community healthfulness,” Schmidt said. “If they have access to safe, equitable places to walk or bike, these independent, happy, confident, ready to learn youth will be empowered to be guardians of their health, develop lifelong habits to move more and sit less and be leaders in their neighborhood.”


CORRINE WETHERBEE, Northport Strong project team chairperson, is happy about the project’s focus on walking and biking to school. She and her team hope to see an increase in the number of students who opt to walk or bike instead of riding the bus. CORRINE WETHERBEE, Northport Strong project team chairperson, is happy about the project’s focus on walking and biking to school. She and her team hope to see an increase in the number of students who opt to walk or bike instead of riding the bus. Thanks to a three-year, $150,000 grant from the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation to support the Northwest Michigan Strong Project, Schmidt is working with Northport Strong volunteers like team chairperson Corrine Wetherbee to do just that.

As a mother of three young children and a teacher at Northport Public School, Wetherbee echoes Schmidt’s sentiments about the importance for children to be active.

“I live and work in Northport. This is our community,” Wetherbee said. “Ultimately, we have a lot of students who take the bus to and from school, and especially in the wintertime the only activity these students may have is school recess.

“Some students are actually walking along state highways to get to school, and we are working to make this a safe, walkable and bikeable community.”

Wetherbee said at some point she hopes to see infrastructure changes “so we have truly safe routes to school.”

A first step toward such efforts was yesterday’s Winter Walk Wednesday. Students met at the marina and walked to school from there.

Future events will be scheduled after spring break, including weekly opportunities for students to walk or bike to school.

And the fitness fun won’t end once students spend their days at the beach instead of in the classroom.

This summer, Northport Strong will start “Slow Stroll” — weekly evening bike rides designed “to bring people together around a healthy activity,” Wetherbee said. These events will be aimed at residents as well as visitors to the area.

Northport Strong extends beyond school walls.

“This is not just a school initiative,” Wetherbee said. “It’s not just a young person initiative. We want to see all ages participate. Northport is easy to enjoy by foot, by bike, by snowshoe. We want to encourage activity throughout the whole community.”

Engaging the community also involves partnerships with local businesses and organizations to promote healthy lifestyle choices. Northport’s partners are Northport Public Schools, Bike Leelanau, Leelanau Township Library, TBAISD LifeSpan, Mitten Brewing Company Northport and North Shore Outfitters.

“Norte believes that change is local — microlocal, actually,” Schmidt said. “Micro-actions of many lead to real system-wide change. In our opinion, all people have the potential to positively impact their community. This project is for a healthier Northport powered by Northport citizens who care. For Northport by Northport.”

Mitten Brewing Company-Northport taproom manager Dan Frank wants to see this local change by an increased use of Northport’s resources.

“Our role at the Mitten as a community partner is pretty simple in the fact that we just want to encourage people, young and old, to get out, and enjoy the natural resources we have here in Northport,” Frank said. “We have a great trail system at the state park; Bramen Hill has tennis courts, a skate park and basketball hoops, volleyball at the beach — and the list goes on and on.”

Similar to other area programs under the Northwest Michigan Strong Project, Northport Strong will embrace Norte’s major focus areas of creating and using safe routes to school: pro walk/bike advocacy in the community, a youth mountain bike club and youth leadership council.

Schmidt said the plans for the youth leadership components to be implemented include “assisting self-directed young people to speak up, stand up, get involved and do good in their community … ‘El Liderato’ (a Norte program) consists of a small group of eighth to twelfth graders and empowers young people to stand up, knocked out in the quarterfinals. speak up, get involved, do good and help advocate for a stronger, better connected and more walk/bike friendly community.”

Schmidt said he would eventually like to see people of all ages and abilities in Northport not only have fun walking and riding their bikes but be reminded of the impact they have on the Earth and in their community.

“A long-term objective is to see evidence that our kids have influenced the community enough to see policy, social, and infrastructure improvements made for future generations,” he said. “We want to give our children the opportunity to have a voice and would assist with their desires to donate time or appeal to their community on issues that are important to them as young citizens and as cyclists. We will see students as leaders because of what they learn walking or biking.

“Our goal is to help build a stronger, better connected and more walk/bike friendly Northport by inspiring the young and young at heart to be happy and healthy through active transportation advocacy,” he said.

And there are plans to expand beyond Northport.

“By sharing knowledge, tools and experiences of what works well and what doesn’t,” he said, “Norte can be a resource and guide to get 10,000 kids in northern Michigan — and their communities — active for life.”

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I'm so happy to see this

I'm so happy to see this initiative. We are considering moving to Northport and safe roads for bikers and walkers is really important to us. I would love to see bike lanes and/or wider shoulders for bikers and pedestrians to move safely around the township and village.