What's it take to motivate a community to get outdoors and stay active? Do you need resident endurance athletes as role models? How about recreational facilities, like parks and trails for biking and skiing? Do people crave organized hiking trips, ski races or annual fun runs?
It may be critical to have all the above.
But you wouldn't expect to find a silent sports movement at critical mass in a small, rural community, would you? Few options exist outside big cities, right?
Well then, you'll be surprised to learn all that's going on in and around Lodi, Wisconsin, a town of 3,300 people about 25 miles north of Madison. A cadre of active adults is making that community attractive to its residents of all ages as well as visitors.
It's a natural fit for a town surrounded by bucolic countryside and low-traffic roads perfect for bicycle touring; lovely stretches of the Ice Age Trail north and south of town; and not far from the stunning views from atop Gibraltar Rock and Devil's Lake State Park, linked by a relaxed ride on the Merrimac Ferry that crosses Lake Wisconsin.
"We have a beautiful area here and we're trying to utilize it," said Diana Karls, a Lodi native, Ironman triathlete and ultrarunner.
Movers and shakers
"We have a group called Activate Lodi. It's a broad cross section of people that meets monthly at a downtown coffee shop to brainstorm," said Karls, who is program director for Community Resource Enrichment and Wellness (CREW), a program of the Lodi School District.
The mayor and the president of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce sometimes attend the Activate Lodi meetings, Karls said, indicating the serious consideration given to the group's efforts.
"These are passionate people who give of their free time. Exercise has made a difference in their lives and they want to pay it forward. They know you can do more than you think you can, and they want to show you how to do it," Karls said.
CREW, despite being a Lodi School District program, offers basketball clinics, gymnastics and swim lessons to young kids, but also water aerobics for seniors and strength and conditioning, Zumba classes and "boot camps" for all ages.
"We just started a youth triathlon club that gets parents involved and training alongside their kids," Karls said. She organizes a youth triathlon held in August and, for the past 10 years, the Duck-A-Thon: a pool swimming, biking and running event held in conjunction with Susie the Duck Day, a celebration of the town's mascot, every October.
"We don't overly publicize these events because we don't want it to be intimidating to anyone," Karls said.
Much bigger races are the Lodi Library Run-Walk, a 5K and 1 mile, held for the past 23 years in August, and the Lodi Mother's Day Run, a half marathon, 10K and 5K, held for the second time in 2012, and run by the Lodi Optimists Club.
Joe Bainbridge, a local electrical engineer and triathlete, directs the Mother's Day Run. "I've never had so much support from people in my life. Just a bunch of movers and shakers in town and we're all active people," he said.
Many of them are among the three dozen or so Ironman triathletes, endurance cyclists and ultrarunners who live in Lodi. With that core group, Bainbridge said he hopes to start a new annual event, the details of which he wasn't ready to discuss.
Bainbridge also wants the group he started, Lodi Silent Sports (which is unaffiliated with this magazine), to coordinate and promote the many events and organizations concerned with healthy living in the community. Besides directing the Mother's Day Run, he puts on weekly time trials and training runs and is an assistant coach for the area ski club.
Youth ski club
Another silent sports effort putting the town on the map is the Lodi Area Cross-Country Ski Club, which is primarily a youth racing team. Started in November 2005, skiers in the program have been turning heads on the weekend of the American Birkebeiner Ski Marathon.
"It was at the Kortelopet, either last year or the year before, when every minute it seemed we had another kid cross the finish line," recalled Dale Fanney, head coach for the club he helped found. "The announcer said, 'Where the heck is this town Lodi? There are more skiers from there than from Hayward.'"
Other Birkie officials are well aware that every year a handful of Lodi youth receive scholarships, via the Wisconsin Nordic Network, to ski the Korte.
"Last year 29 kids from Lodi skied the Korte or Birkie, and another six joined them from the affiliated Blue Mound Nordic Ski Club," Fanney said. "And although we have never placed higher than 10th as a team at the state meet, we have a half dozen former members skiing at the NCAA level now and two in the elite Birkie wave. They just get better after they leave."
The club currently includes 20 high school and 15 middle school racers and another 40 first- through fifth-grade youths learning to ski on waxless classics.
"We charge each kid $45 for the season - $35 to $40 more if they need to rent equipment. But that means they may end up racing on my 1988 Atomics," Fanney said.
What's most surprising, according to Fanney, is that most of these kids did not come from Nordic skiing families. And the town didn't have a ski trail system before the team was established. There's now 8K of groomed ski trail on the Lakeland Hills Golf Course and adjacent land near the high school.
"We're developing a ski culture here," he said, and without affiliation or financial backing from the budget-constrained school district.
"Our success is in part due to luck. We just have so many dynamic people in town - not necessarily skiers, but triathletes, runners and serious cyclists - who do support what we're doing."
For the club's race schedule, which includes the Lodi Invitational on December 15, go to lodixcski.org.
John F. Pickle Jr., former Town of Lodi board chairman and current member of the Columbia County Silent Sports Trails Committee (also no relation to the magazine), sees the economic potential for drawing thousands more cyclists to Lodi.
"Two million people visit Devil's Lake State Park every year," Pickle pointed out. "If we can bring just 1 percent of those to town and get each of those people to spend $20 in our stores and restaurants, that's $450,000 added to our bottomline. The way to do that is with a trail."
Pickle, 72-year-old retired agri-business entomologist, has called Lodi home for the past 16 years. He said he's made his pitch for a trail to four state lawmakers and several officials with the state departments of transportation, natural resources and tourism.
In simple terms, Pickle would like to see a trail within the Union Pacific right-of way that extends from Lodi to the Merrimac Ferry. Including the ferry ride, that would be a straight shot of seven miles. From the north shore, there are several biking routes less than 15 miles long that reach Devil's Lake along the Baraboo Bluffs.
"I'm just a guy eating grasshoppers and wild honey, but I want to see if this is a worthwhile project," Pickle said.
The idea may not be feasible, however. A state official pointed out that the rail line is still in service (about four trains use it daily) and the right-of-way is too narrow in places to safely accommodate a parallel trail. The proposed route would also require construction of at least one costly bicycle and pedestrian bridge.
"The real crux is getting a trail from Lodi to the ferry," Bainbridge aggreed. "We need to convince people we need to get this trail done."
Barring that, Pickle is promoting the designation of U.S. Bicycle Route 30 on rural area roads as it links Reedsburg to Middleton. Route 30 would ultimately identify the best biking between Maine and Montana. The route through Wisconsin would largely follow state trails.
On a driving tour, Pickle led this reporter up and down several gorgeous roads. One can dispense with a bike and walk the state's steepest path to the top of Gibraltar Rock for the stunning views, return to the bottom and then attempt the Slack Road climb. Or heading northeast from Merrimac, under County Highway 78's sugar maple canopy, the payoff for reaching the Owen Park overview is a long, sweeping downhill ride.
"This is worth something," Pickle said convincingly. "This is peanut butter. You can't make this. This is gorgeous country."
Joel Patenaude is the editor of Silent Sports.
Lodi's arsenal of activity
Lodi has many facilities, businesses and civic groups and accomplished athletes dedicated to helping its residents stay active and healthy.
• Although the school district ended its years-long contract with the YMCA to operate the community swimming pool at the high school, Diana Karls, who was a YMCA employee, was retained to oversee the pool and the Community Resource Enrichment and Wellness (CREW) program. www.lodi.k12.wi.us/community/communityresourceenrichmentandwellness.cfm
• In 2008, the nonprofit Lodi Sports and Recreation Center opened in the former home of a bowling alley. It has a gym, athletic courts, an indoor track and weight rooms. lodisportscenter.com
• Three years earlier, Kory Ryan started KR Fitness Systems with an emphasis on CrossFit training, which involves a range of high intensity strength and conditioning exercises involving sprinting, jumping, power lifting, climbing rope. Ryan has a 1,500-square-foot gym on Lodi's Main Street. More recently, he opened CrossFit Farmland in nearby Waunakee. crossfitfarmland.com
• The Columbia County Silent Sports Trails Committee, formerly the bicycle committee, was established in January 2010.
• Lodi Silent Sports, according to its Facebook page, "supports activities like walking, running, biking, hiking, swimming, weight training, CrossFit, yoga, stretching, mind exercises, volunteer activities etc." facebook.com/lodisilentsports; youtube.com/user/lodisilentsports
• Activate Lodi, an informal group that meets monthly at a downtown coffee shop to brainstorm ways to get residents of all ages moving and healthy.
• Summer Saunters is a youth hiking group started in the Lodi School District by teachers Luke Kloberdanz and Chris McNeill with funding from the Ice Age Trail Alliance and donations. The program gets as many as 70 third- to fifth-grade students out on day-long hikes and involved in trail work. Last year Lodi students spent four days doing restoration work on the Gibraltar segment of the IAT with Kloberdanz, who is a certified IAT skills leader. They also pitched in on work days at Devil's Lake State Park organized by the Ice Age Trail Mobile Skills Crew. Since 2008 when it started, the program has spread to public schools in Milwaukee and Wausau. Next year students in Janesville, Sauk City and Colfax will get to know the IAT segments near their communities.