A new historic bike path that passes through various communities and historic landmarks associated with the Underground Railroad is coming to Oberlin. The Adventure Cycling Association, a nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and a mission to inspire people of all ages to travel by bicycle, recently announced the details of the 518-mile Detroit Alternate, a supplementary trail to the main Underground Railroad Bicycle Route, which departs from Alabama, winds through Oberlin and ends in Ontario.
Oberlin recently traced out a cycling path along its historical Underground Railroad route. The route stretches from Alabama to Ontario.
“We knew that there were many Underground Railroad sites and communities that wouldn’t be incorporated,” said Winona Bateman, the media director of the ACA. “Therefore, we decided that as long as there was interest and support for ‘alternate’ or ‘spur’ routes, we would incorporate these into the route as much as possible over time.”
The trail runs from Oberlin through Toledo and Detroit and follows the shoreline of Lake Erie before ending in Ontario. Various museums in Michigan, such as the Lewanee County Historical Museum and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, are stops along the route. Both own documents from the Underground Railroad and share some of the stories and experiences of the fleeing slaves. The trail also encompasses the Gateway to Freedom Monument on the Detroit Riverfront, which marks a place where thousands of slaves crossed over into Canada and finally gained freedom, and the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum, the largest and most successful settlement for fugitive slaves in Canada.
Oberlin itself has significant history with the Underground Railroad. Bateman said, “[Oberlin has a] rich history associated with the abolitionist movement and the push for equality in education. This is well documented, and the community has honored this history well, with the Oberlin Heritage Center at its core. We knew we could begin the Detroit Alternate in Oberlin and keep the integrity of the route — it’s a good point of departure from the main route for cyclists, and it is also close to known freedom trails [documented routes that the Underground Railroad followed].”
Bateman hopes that the Detroit Alternate will also increase tourism in the communities where the route exists.
“Traveling cyclists on the Detroit Alternate will be visiting the communities — staying, dining and shopping in them — boosting tourism dollars in the region and impacting rural businesses. Communities may also benefit by becoming more bicycle friendly in order to attract cycle tourism, which in turn will have a positive benefit for encouraging more cycling locally — gaining a more active and healthy community,” said Bateman.
The reception to this new cycling route in Oberlin has been positive. College sophomore Gideon Reiz said, “The fusion of cycling and historic sites is very interesting to me. As a student-athlete, I’ve found a blend between exercising and academics, and I think that the way this trail includes connections to history is really cool and exciting. Plus, I think it will be great for the town of Oberlin in terms of tourism and more visitors.”
Oberlin’s Swerve Bike Shop will host Jim Sayer, the executive director of ACA, tomorrow, Feb. 25, as he travels to promote the new cycling route and discusses bike travel and tourism.
The owners of the shop are excited about the new trail and the prospect of increasing cycling in Oberlin. Christopher Robinson, co-owner of Swerve, said, “Adventure Cycling has done a great job linking the traveling spirit with history-rich towns like Oberlin. The new Underground Railroad Detroit Alternate Route links our community with a larger group of like-minded individuals and will help put our town’s educational, environmental and social values into action. Swerve Bike Shop will be proud to play a supporting role for both Oberlin residents who want to bike this route and visitors that are riding through town.”
Sayer’s event will take place at the Swerve Bike Shop at 23 Main Street from 11 a.m. to noon.