Welcome West Marquette County, Michigan!
When you put tires to dirt in Marquette County, Mich., be sure to say “thanks,” first to the native Paleo, Anishinaabe, and Ojibwe people who developed the trail system. It's important to acknowledge that this land is originally the indigenous territory of the Obijwe people and that their traditional and ancestral land is where we are lucky enough to mountain bike today. Next up, we thank the mining industry, whose tailings piles of rubble gave elevation to the area, and lastly we say thanks to the fellowship of dedicated mountain bikers, who volunteer to maintain the trails year-round. Like the iron ore found in its rocks, this region on the northern edge of the United States is sitting on something that’s far more valuable: a tightknit community working toward preserving its natural resources through mountain biking.
Introducing Debbie Leaf
It’s here where Debbie Leaf, the daughter of a miner, has chosen to deepen her roots and create opportunities for local kids who may not be able to travel the 20 miles to Marquette, the Upper Peninsula’s largest city, to take advantage of what’s there. Next May Debbie will launch the first-ever Little Bellas West Marquette County. The new chapter will be held at Jackson Mine Park on the western edge of Negaunee. Jackson Mine Park was chosen for its central location and easy access off of the 47-mile multi-use, year round Iron Ore Heritage Trail, which connects communities and people to the region’s historic sites and human stories.
“We have about 75 miles of singletrack between Ishpeming and Negaunee,” Debbie said. “We also have the paved Heritage Trail, a skills park…everything you can imagine within a three mile radius.”
Marji Gesick 100
To punctuate the rich resources that exist there for mountain biking, Debbie dropped mention of the Marji Gesick 100, an ultra endurance event that sold out its 2019 event in three minutes. According to Debbie, the event drew 800 participants from around North America to try and not only finish the race (which boasts an average 60 percent dropout rate) but to earn a handmade belt buckle for finishing under 12 hours. While the official description says “unsupported,” that’s become untrue as unorthodox feed stations featuring barbeque, homemade baked goods, drinks, and assorted snacks have shot up around the racecourse, complements of the local community.
Inclusion in this community is what Debbie would like Little Bellas to experience in the Marquette County chapter. Most of all she’d like to instill a sense of belonging and self-worth that Little Bellas will take with them for the rest of their lives.
“I’m very passionate about women taking care of themselves, making their own decisions, believing in themselves, and knowing their own value.”
Little Bellas venue: Jackson Mine Park
This starts with mentoring on mountain bikes at Jackson Mine Park, where the trails tend to dry out quickly in case there’s a surprise shower that lands on a Little Bellas day. Later, after a session of games and adventure on the bike, it’s possible to taste history with a pasty, typically a meat and vegetable hand pie that miners would take with them down into the mines. Both mining and mountain biking brought modern tastes to the area, which has both Mexican fare and “awesome pizza” (a claim that begs for verification because, who doesn’t like pizza?!)
Marquette County may be small but it’s got sisu (Finnish for tenacity of purpose, grit, and bravery). Little Bellas went there to survey the area’s potential and, like the miners before us, the riches we found were beneath the surface. A proud, impassioned community united in its purpose to elevate mountain biking for generations to come is priceless.
Where to register
Registration for the West Marquette County chapter of Little Bellas opens on February 1, 2020. To learn more about the new chapter, visit the program description here https://littlebellas.com/camp/w-marquette-county-mi-weekly-program/ While you're there, follow the "Register" link to sign up for a reminder to let you know when registration is open!