Underground Railroad Bicycle Route Wins American Trails Partnership Award

Innovative vision of Adventure Cycling and University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Minority Health honored

Missoula, Montana — Adventure Cycling Association’s nationally acclaimed Underground Railroad Bicycle Route has won the American Trails National Partnership Award.

Announced Monday night at the 19th National Trails Symposium in Little Rock, Arkansas, this award recognizes the unique partnership forged between Adventure Cycling Association and the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Minority Health to create a 2,028-mile bicycle route memorializing the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses by which freedom seekers attempted to escape slavery before and during the Civil War. The Underground Railroad Bicycle Route passes points of interest and historic sites from Mobile, Alabama, a busy port for slavery during the pre-civil war era, north to Owen Sound, Ontario, a town founded by free blacks in 1857.

“The response to the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route has been outstanding and demonstrates the power of the cycling community and public health working together. We feel very honored to receive such great recognition from the national trails community,” said Ginny Sullivan, routes outreach coordinator for Adventure Cycling. Dr. Stephen Thomas, director of the Center for Minority Health and board member of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy stated, “We greatly appreciate the validation this award brings to our novel approach of turning the tragic history of slavery into a demonstration of active living. It affirms what has been for us an incredible partnership created to fulfill our mission of eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities through physical activity and advancing the value of diversity within the cycling community.”

Adventure Cycling began its partnership with the Center for Minority Health in 2004. With America facing a national health crisis, Adventure Cycling and the Center for Minority Health recognized a natural alliance born from common goals and mutually beneficial areas of expertise. The partnership married Adventure Cycling’s 30-plus years experience in creating cycling routes and the Center’s connections to the African American and health promotion communities, to produce a synergistic relationship that supported and validated each organization’s involvement with the project.

Pam Gluck, executive director of American Trails said, “The partnership between Adventure Cycling Association and the Center for Minority Health is an exceptional example of the inspiring work being done within the trails community.” Their partnership has indeed produced many inspiring results.

Since the route’s official establishment in 2007, Adventure Cycling’s Underground Railroad Route map sales have been exceptional, with 4,150 maps sold to date. The Association has also seen a significant leap in the number of African Americans participating in its tours.

In its inaugural year, libraries and museums in small communities along the route suddenly became “safe house” cycling hubs and began hosting events for cyclists, such as historical reenactments, and including them in established celebrations. In 2007, at the end of one of Adventure Cycling’s Underground Railroad tours, participants rolled into Owen Sound, Ontario (the northern terminus of the route), where they were welcomed into the annual Owen Sound Emancipation Celebration parade.

The partnership and route have also facilitated impressive educational projects such as the 2008 Bronx Lab School’s initiative, “Health and History: Biking the Underground Railroad,” a weeklong educational tour through the route’s historically rich Ohio section. Bronx Lab students prepared for their trip with months of training, nutritional education, and history classes, then rode over 200 miles from Milford to Oberlin, exploring Underground Railroad historic sites, such as safe houses, museums, and historic monuments, along the way. The students also took the opportunity to visit several colleges.

In February, WPXI-TV the NBC affiliate in Pittsburgh produced Biking Through Black History, a 30 minute Black History Month special highlighting the creation of the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route. In honor of the vital role that Pittsburgh played in Underground Railroad history, a spur route was also created, starting in downtown Pittsburgh outside the Senator John Heinz History Center and terminating in Erie, PA.

Pittsburgh’s Major Taylor Bike Club — a club inspired by one of North America’s first, world-renown bicycle champions, an African-American man named Marshall “Major” Taylor who dominated races in the early 20th Century — worked with Adventure Cycling to complete the route research for the Pittsburgh Spur. In a National Public Radio interview, Mario Browne, founding president of the club and a CMH project director, described in visceral detail what it was like for him, as a Black man, to dip the wheels of his bike in the Gulf of Mexico where the last slave ships arrived in Alabama, “â€ĶI looked back and just imagined those human beings stuffed in ships like sardines, and the waste, the degradation and the humiliation that they went through. There is no rational reason I should be standing here today,” he said.

The creation of day trip maps is another ongoing effort to make the route accessible to cyclists of all ages and abilities. The first set was produced with the Brown County Tourism Board for the community of Ripley, OH.

The American Trails Board received over 200 nominations for the 2008 National Trails Awards Program. With over a dozen award categories, the National Trails Awards are one way American Trails recognizes the exemplary people across the landscape of America who are working to create a national system of trails to meet the recreation, health, and travel needs of all Americans.

The Underground Railroad Bicycle Route project has received generous support from REI, Inc, and Bikes Belong Coalition.

Learn more about the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route project at www.adventurecycling.org/ugrr

Map sections for the route are available at www.adventurecycling.org/routes/undergroundrailroad.cfm

To learn more about the National Trails Symposium and the National Trails Awards Program, please visit, www.americantrails.org.

To view WPXI-TV’s Biking Through Black History trailer visit, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jz7nSEHcndo&feature=channel

To hear NPR interview visit, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10254829

Adventure Cycling Association is the premier bicycle travel organization in North America with over 44,000 members. A nonprofit organization, its mission is to inspire people of all ages to travel by bicycle. It produces routes and maps for cycling in North America, organizes more than 40 tours annually, and publishes the best bicycle travel information anywhere, including Adventure Cyclist magazine and The Cyclists’ Yellow Pages. With 38,158 meticulously mapped miles in the Adventure Cycling Route Network, Adventure Cycling gives cyclists the tools and confidence to create their own bike travel adventures. Contact the office at (800) 755-BIKE (2453), info@adventurecycling.org, or visit www.adventurecycling.org.

Established in 1994 with a generous grant from the R.K. Mellon Foundation, the Center for Minority Health (CMH) is committed to translating evidence-based research into community-based interventions and innovative outreach practices. The CMH, in the Graduate School of Public Health, provides the infrastructure, among the University of Pittsburgh Schools of Health Sciences, for addressing health issues among ethnic and racial minorities and other vulnerable and underserved populations. Dr. Stephen B. Thomas is the Philip Hallen Professor of Community Health and Social Justice, Principal Investigator of the NIH-NCMHD Research Center of Excellence in Minority Health Disparities, and Director of the Center for Minority Health. Learn more about the Center at www.cmh.pitt.edu.

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