2018-08-23 / Front Page

Ironman backers lay out a case

Townships will make decisions
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

Organizers of the Ironman Triathlon are far from giving up on trying to convince local officials in Leelanau County that hosting part of the internationally-renowned amateur athletic event next summer would be good for the community.

In fact, they’ve just begun.

The Leelanau County Board of Commissioners heard this week from the president of Traverse City Tourism, Trevor Tkach, and Leelanau County cherry farmer Ben LaCross, who asserted that communities benefit greatly from hosting Ironman events.

Tkach said township officials throughout Leelanau County will be approached in the weeks ahead about hosting the biking portion of the Ironman Triathlon, which is set for Aug. 25, 2019.

News received earlier this month by other county and township officials about Ironman bikers peddling though Leelanau County were not universally well-received. Tkach told the County Board this week that he and LaCross wanted to dispel “rumors floating around” about the event.

Organizers have proposed that participants will begin and end near Clinch Park on West Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City. The swimming portion of the triathlon would occur in the West Bay waters off Traverse City, and the running portion would occur on Old Mission Peninsula in Grand Traverse County. The City Commission of Traverse has already approved the event.

Almost all of a 56-mile bike race portion of the event would occur in Leelanau County. Tkach told county commissioners Tuesday night that no final decision has been made for a route for the biking portion of the event.

He added that total road closures are not required. He said that in most cases, “rolling closures” of two to four hours occur on one lane of two-lane roads along the bike route, and provisions are put in place to ensure local motorists can get where they need to go in a timely manner.

Tkach noted that the Ironman organization and Traverse City Tourism have resources to assist local agencies in managing traffic and crowds along the bike route. He added that the Ironman Foundation also provides grants to communities that host Ironman events, distributing about $1.5 million last year.

He said that a proposed, inaugural Ironman Triathlon in Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties would be substantially smaller than some other events hosted in the region. The Bayshore Marathon, for example, has about 7,000 participants and the Iceman bike race has about 6,000 participants.

Ironman would begin with about 2,400 participants, he said.

Tkach also noted that people participating in Ironman events often make them part of family vacations, spending significant sums of money locally for lodging, meals and tourism. Ironman participants are generally college-educated professionals with a household income averaging $247,000 per year, he said.

LaCross, a lifelong Leelanau County resident and cherry farmer, said that the local cherry industry could benefit from Ironman along with other local businesses. He noted that the Cherry Marketing Institute has been marketing red, tart cherry juice to endurance athletes as an aid to recovery following extreme exertion.

“We’d really like to add a Leelanau County flair to Ironman,” LaCross said. “Imagine riding a bike into Cedar while smelling kielbasa and hearing a polka band playing.”

LaCross added that local schools and cross-country teams could also play a role in Ironman, serving as volunteers. He was accompanied by his wife, Kelsey LaCross, a former National Cherry Queen and current Leland Public School teacher, as well as Leland teacher and coach Ryan DeFour.

County administrator Chet Janik noted that the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners will have “no say” in whether a leg of the Ironman Triathlon is conducted in Leelanau County. Instead, he said, it will primarily be up to townships falling within the bike route.

Tkach said he hoped to begin putting Ironman on the agendas of township board meetings throughout Leelanau County beginning next month.

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