2018-09-06 / Front Page

Supervisors mixed on Ironman

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

The supervisors of seven townships in Leelanau County that may be asked to host parts of a 56-mile-long Ironman biking event next summer are expressing mixed opinions on the prospect.

While backlash against Ironman was expressed following a recent County Board meeting, it will be up to township boards to decide whether to allow the race to pass through their jurisdictions. So far, some township supervisors appear supportive, while others are not.

Organizers of the Ironman Triathlon have proposed holding a “Half-Ironman,” a 70.3-mile event in the Grand Traverse region on Aug. 25, 2019.

Officials of the City of Traverse City have already agreed to host a 1.2-mile swim as part of the triathlon off Clinch Park in West Grand Traverse Bay. As now designed, the city park would also serve as the start and finish of a 13.1- mile run onto the Old Mission Peninsula in Grand Traverse County, and a 56-mile bike ride in Leelanau County.

Mainly for liability reasons, the Leelanau County Road Commission has recently been requiring townships to apply for permits to use county rights-of-way on behalf of organizations that want to use the roads for bicycling events. That will require votes by Township Boards in as many as seven Leelanau County townships through which the bike route might to go.

Speaking to the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners at its regular monthly meeting on Aug. 21, Trevor Tkach, president of the Traverse City Tourism organization, said he and other Ironman proponents plan to pitch the idea next month to township boards in Leelanau County.

All seven of the township supervisors queried about the topic by the Leelanau Enterprise made it clear that decisions will be up to their entire, elected township boards, not themselves as individual supervisors.

“I don’t personally have any opposition to the event coming through Centerville Township,” said township Supervisor Jim Schwantes. “It’s on our agenda to discuss, and we’ve only heard from one constituent so far who’s opposed to it.”

Schwantes noted that the Centerville Township Board has not yet developed a formal policy on how to process such requests.

Bingham Township Supervisor Midge Werner was skeptical of the proposal, expressing concern about the impact on the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office and local farmers.

“You never know exactly when people need to harvest, and when it’s time to put farm equipment on the road, that’s when you have to do it,” Werner said. She added that overtime hours required of the county’s limited number of road patrol deputies could present a burden as well.

Suttons Bay Township Supervisor Rich Bahle said, “At first glance, I’m in favor of it.”

Bahle said he had not yet heard directly from anyone about the event and it hadn’t yet been placed on a board agenda. But, Bahle said, the county’s “carrying capacity” for such events ought to be a consideration even if it’s good to have more people visiting the county.

Elmwood Township Supervisor Jeff Shaw said, with tongue in cheek, that, “I am 100-percent in support of letting the Township Board decide” on whether to host the Ironman bicycling event.

“Personally, I’m in favor of it and I’ve done some of these races myself – they’re a wonderful thing, and people would appreciate doing an Ironman in such a beautiful place as ours,” Shaw said.

Leland Township Supervisor Susan Och noted that her job outside of being a township supervisor involves accommodating seasonal visitors. She’s almost been too busy lately to think about Ironman.

“It’s good to promote our area – but how much more promotion do we need?” Och asked rhetorically. “It almost seems tone deaf to ask someone who works for a living around here — at the end of the summer — whether we’d like to see yet another big event coming through at the end of the summer season.”

Kasson Township Supervisor Greg Julian had a more positive outlook.

“If it’s well planned and safe, I think we would welcome having it in our township,” Julian said. “Ironman is a healthy, worthwhile physical endeavor.”

The supervisor of neighboring Solon Township, however, was not as enthusiastic.

“I’m against having bike races on public roads at all,” said Supervisor Jim Lautner. “It’s always a fight to take agricultural equipment on the roads when its being overrun by bicycles. It’s pretty dangerous, and I can’t see why this would be good for Solon Township at all.”

Tkach told the Enterprise this week that the exact route of the bicycling portion of the Ironman event has not yet been decided, and decisions will definitely take into account the concerns of local communities that may be affected.

“We still plan to start going around to township boards staring this month,” Tkach said, “and we hope to make it clear that this is a very wellorganized event that will bring more benefits than disruption to the community.”

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