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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tour de Coal coming up soon

Once again this year, I'm honored to be a part of planning the Coal Country Chamber of Commerce's Tour de Coal bicycle ride.

This year's second annual Tour de Coal will be Saturday, Sept. 22, at Benld Elementary School in Benld, Ill. For those of you who don't know where Benld is, it's about halfway between St. Louis and Springfield, Ill., not far from Staunton, the home of the original Tour de Donut.

Once again, the ride will feature three routes, a 15-mile family ride, a 30-mile mid-range ride and a 63-mile metric century. Most of the route will be on flat-to-rolling rural roads surrounding Benld and nearby Gillespie, and the metric century will use a portion of an old Route 66 alignment between Staunton and Mount Olive.

Day-of-ride registration will be from 7 to 9 a.m. at the school, but you can save money by pre-registering for Tour de Coal. You can either register through Active.com or fill out a form at the Web site, print it and send it to the address listed at the bottom of the form. Forms also are available at many St. Louis-area and Springfield-area bicycle shops.

Registration is $20 per person and $50 per household of three or more on the day of the ride, but it's only $15 per person and $40 per household if you sign up in advance.

Proceeds for the ride will be used by the Coal Country Chamber of Commerce to help improve Gillespie, Benld and other neighboring communities.

I get a lot of satisfaction out of organizing the Tour de Coal, but it's different from the satisfaction I get from leading Tour de Stooges. The big reason why I enjoy organizing Tour de Coal so much is because it's allowed me to reconnect with my native county and learn things about it.

I grew up in Brighton, which is in the southwestern corner of the county, but Brighton normally doesn't have a lot of connection with the rest of Macoupin County because the village is so close to the Alton-Wood River area. Brighton also doesn't share the coal mining heritage that much of the rest of Macoupin County has.

I've learned a lot about the rich ethnic heritage of the Benld-Gillespie area, and the big reason for that were the coal mines that once operated in the area. There are at least 20 coal mines near the Tour de Coal course, but only one of them is operational today.

Benld is best known for the Coliseum Ballroom, which hosted acts such as Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington in its heyday. Benld is also home to The Holy Dormition of the Theotokos Russian Orthodox Church, the only church in Illinois under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Russia. Tours of the church will be available during the Tour de Coal.

Being involved in the Tour de Coal also has allowed me to become active with the ITS Trail, a bicycle trail under development between Staunton and Benld. A long-term goal of bicycle trail advocates in the region is to develop a network of trails that would link St. Louis and Springfield.

We hope to see you in Benld on Sept. 22!

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