Last fall the League of American Cyclists recognized Fergus Falls as a bronze-level bicycle friendly city. Such accolades are usually only bestowed upon much larger municipalities than the town of 13,000. But some very passionate cycling advocates have banded together and made Fergus Falls one of the best places for cyclists in Minnesota. One of those individuals is City Councilman Wayne Hurley.
For his cycling advocacy work, the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota honored Hurley this year as its Bicycle Friendly Community Champion. Among other things, Hurley is an advocate of Safe Routes to Schools, was among city council members who recently passed a resolution for the city’s first bike lanes, and has championed 30 Days of Biking (30DOB) in Fergus Falls for the past two years.
After having not ridden much for years, Hurley came across something about 30DOB in 2014 and decided to give it a shot. More than 5 months later he had ridden his bicycle for 161 consecutive days, losing 30 pounds along the way. From that time on his passion for cycling has only grown stronger.
Hurley is also a member of Pedal Fergus Falls, a group of dedicated advocates working to make cycling and walking safer in the city.
The group consists of riders with a broad range of cycling interests, from practical riding to crushing gravel. At its monthly meetings the group discusses safety initiatives, such as shared lane markings (commonly known as “sharrows”) and bike lanes. It also hosts a weekly family-friendly Thursday night bike ride, as well as the occasional bike rodeo, where kids can get their bikes checked and helmets professionally fitted. The group also plays a role in the annual Lake Alice 100, billed as the most compact century ride.
Held in May for the past four years, the Lake Alice 100 brings members of the community together to celebrate the vibrant bike community, while encouraging physical activity and raising money for a good cause. To reach 100 miles a rider has to make 87 laps around the diminutive Lake Alice. Regardless if a rider completes one lap or all 87, the local Affinity Credit Union branch pledges to donate to a local cause for each loop completed. In years past money has been raised for a college scholarship and a 4th of July fireworks show. This year the money raised went to support Pedal Fergus Falls.
The list of bicycle-friendly amenities in the town goes on and on. Bike racks can be found throughout the downtown area and two maintenance stands allow riders to add air to their tires and make minor adjustments on the go. For anything more complicated, Central Lakes Cycle provides the town with sales and service of quality bikes and accessories.
Other factors that make cycling so appealing in Fergus Falls include its compact size and relatively light traffic on the roads. The town was planned out before automobiles were accessible and, as such, everything is only a short ride away on a bicycle. Pedal Fergus Falls member Jake Krohn calls himself a utilitarian cyclist, using his two-wheeler year-round for everything from grocery shopping to bringing the kids to school or meeting friends for a pint.
For those wishing for something a little more adventurous than in-town riding, Fergus Falls has that covered too. The Central Lakes Trail is a 55-mile ribbon of paved perfection, stretching across west-central Minnesota from Osakis to Fergus Falls. Places to rest or grab a bite are never far off either, with a community on the trail every 7 miles (on average). At Osakis riders even have the option of continuing onto the Lake Wobegon Trail for another 48 miles of riding.
Transportation Planner for the West Central Initiative (WCI) Andrew Besold says the gravel roads around Fergus Falls are yet another resource that makes the area so appealing for cyclists. Besold is a native of New Jersey and moved to the town, which he had never heard of, in order to take the job at WCI. He couldn’t be happier. “The gravel roads of Otter Tail County offer near infinite, traffic-free cycling possibilities with bucolic lake country scenery that will have you pedaling hard just to discover what lies over the next hill,” he explained in a recent email exchange. Over a six-hour span on gravel roads Besold only encountered about 20 cars.
Fergus Falls also serves as a place of respite for long-distance cyclists on the Adventure Cycling Northern Tier cross-country route, which spans 4,200 miles from Anacortes, WA to Bar Harbor, ME. Owners Pat and Jean Connelly encounter lots of cross-country riders at the Dairyland Drive-In. Pat says it’s always interesting learning the stories of riders, who ride for various reasons, including to raise awareness for a cause or to honor a loved one.
Last year Jamie and Ronnie McCann of Golden, CO rode through Fergus Falls during their cross-country ride on a tandem bicycle, as documented in their blog. Not only did they have a good meal and nice conversation with the owners of Dairyland, but were very impressed by the city as a whole. “Bike trails along with neighborly people that give bikes the right of way made this city a joy to visit,” they wrote.
About the only thing missing in Fergus Falls is some singletrack for the mountain bikers. For that you’ll need to drive an hour to Black’s Grove Park in Wadena.
While it’s clear that Fergus Falls has become a very progressive cycling city in the past few years, it’s not the town’s first foray with the pastime. In fact cycling took the entire Red River Valley by storm in the 1890s. The sign outside CW Wilson Bicycle Co. in Fergus Falls boasted high-grade machines for “jobbers and dealers.” And members of the Fergus Falls bicycle club were pedaling around Lake Alice before Lakeside Drive was even paved.