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Published: Friday, 2/24/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

BLACK HISTORY MONTH

Biking map takes freedom's path

Route goes through region to Canada

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The nonprofit Adventure Cycling Association has stitched together a bicycle route that traces the path in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan that runaway slaves may have taken nearly two centuries ago to gain freedom in Canada.

The pedal-friendly, low-traffic route that takes bicycling enthusiasts on paved roads is the newest and last extension of the 2,000-mile Underground Railroad Bicycle Route that Adventure Cycling established in 2007 tracing the network of places used to harbor slaves from bounty hunters.

Called the Detroit Alternative, it departs from the main route in Oberlin, Ohio, and extends west to Elmore, Toledo, and Sylvania, before going north to Blissfield, Adrian, into other Michigan communities, and around Lake St. Clair before tracing the shoreline of Lake Huron to Owen Sound, Ont.

Jim Sayer, executive director of Adventure Cycling, will be in Toledo on Friday as part of a weeklong tour of Midwest cities to promote the new corridor during Black History Month. He will give a presentation on the route and other bicycle touring opportunities from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Toledo Bikes, 1114 Washington St., near downtown.

Based in Missoula, Mont., the organization boasts more than 43,500 members and is dedicated to inspiring people of all ages to travel by bicycle for exploration, fun, and fitness. The group's network of maps covers nearly 41,000 miles, including three east-west transcontinental routes, one of which passes through Wood County.

Ginny Sullivan, special projects director who oversaw a committee that designed the Underground Railroad routes, said sites along the new 518-mile corridor celebrate the area's historic anti-slavery past by earmarking the paths and hideouts used by slaves seeking freedom and the abolitionists who guided their safety.

Among the attractions highlighted in maps are the Lathrop House in Harroun Park in Sylvania. The 175-year-old house is believed to be part of a network of safe houses in Ohio where fugitive slaves were given shelter on their trip to freedom in Canada.

In Adrian, there is the Lenawee County Historical Museum, which houses thousands of documents related to the underground passage of slaves, and the statue of Laura Haviland, an abolitionist who devoted her life to helping slaves escape to freedom.

"There are just tons of historical sites on the route. We try to stimulate interest with information that is on the maps," said Ms. Sullivan, adding that the organization's Web site has additional information on attractions for people who want to dig deeper into the underground railroad history.

Adventure Cycling has no way to track how many people have followed the main Underground Railroad that begins in Mobile, Ala., and is broken down into five sections before ending in Owen Sound. Ms. Sullivan said nearly 800 maps were sold last year and 1,600 maps were purchased during the first year after the route maps were released.

Maps and information about the Underground Railroad Bicycle Routes are available on the Web site of the Adventure Cycling Association at adventurecycling.org.

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com or 419-724-6199.



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