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Monday, September 14, 2009

Tour de Coal set for Sept. 26

The good folks at the Coal County Chamber of Commerce are putting on the 4th annual Tour de Coal bicycle ride on Saturday, Sept. 26, in Benld, Ill.

The goals of the ride are to promote bicycling in Macoupin County and to raise money for community projects in Gillespie, Benld and other nearby communities.

Routes of 15, 30 and 63 miles are available. The routes go past the sites of many former coal mines that were the lifeblood of those communities. In addition, the 63-mile route uses parts of old alignments of Route 66 and passes the gravesite of Mother Jones, a major labor leader in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The cost of the ride is $15 a person ($20 day of ride) and includes a $40 family special ($50 day of ride), and registration takes place from 7 to 9 a.m. at the Benld Civic Center, 201 E. Center St. in Benld. The community is approximately halfway between St. Louis and Springfield.

The start site of the ride used to be at Benld Elementary School, but mine subsidence earlier this year forced the school to be closed permanently, so the start site was moved to the Benld Civic Center.

For more information about the ride, visit its Web site, and you can register online at

Thanks to events like the Tour de Coal and the Tour de Donut in nearby Staunton and thanks to the recently completed extension of the Madison County Transit Quercus Grove Trail to Staunton, bicycling has received quite a boost in Macoupin County. Bicycle enthusiasts are hoping to garner support for more bicycle trails that would link the Madison County trails to a bike trail in the Springfield area.

As a native of Macoupin County, I'm always happy to help boost bicycling in that area.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tour de Coal gets a new home

As one of the organizers of the Tour de Coal ride (Sept. 26 in Benld, Ill.), we had a couple of big decisions to make today.

The home base of the ride for its first three years, the 7-year-old Benld Elementary School, was recently condemned because of massive subsidence caused by one of the 30 former coal mines that surrounds the community.

The first decision was whether to do the ride in 2009. We unanimously decided the ride should go on!

That made the second major decision easier: where to base the ride. Coal Country Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mickey Robinson was already on top of that one. He had contacted civic leaders and gotten permission to use the Benld Civic Center, 200 E. Central Ave., so the ride is definitely on!

We hope the Tour de Coal will serve as a rallying point for the community. The Gillespie-Benld area has taken its share of hard knocks in recent years, with the devastation at the school the latest one. How bad is the damage at the school? Paul Skeans, the superintedent of the Gillespie School District and a key organizer of the ride, said a portion of the school's floor has fallen about 28 inches.

The school district will need a lot of help from the state and federal governments to find a temporary solution and to build a new school. I'm pulling for the community that solutions can be found.


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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mine subsidence damages Tour de Coal's home base

I was saddened to find out today at that Benld Elementary School -- the home base of the annual Tour de Coal ride in Benld, Ill. -- was severely damaged Saturday, probably by mine subsidence. Most likely, the school will be closed for the rest of the year.

Paul Skeans -- superintendent of the Gillespie School District, a co-organizer of the Tour de Coal and one of my cycling buddies -- was really proud of the building. Up until Saturday, it was a nice, modern building -- it opened in 2002 -- that served its students and staff well, and it was a great place for a home base for a bike ride.

But, sadly, it's not surprising that mine subsidence damages buildings in the Benld-Gillespie area, which is located roughly halfway between St. Louis and Springfield, Ill. The region is dotted with dozens of old coal mines, hence the name of the ride. Mine subsidence also is common in communities in the metro-east, including Belleville, O'Fallon, Collinsville and Glen Carbon, because of the many abandoned coal mines in the region.

"Floors heaved, floors cracked and floors are separated," Paul told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today. "Walls are splitting apart. It's like there's been an earthquake."

I'm pulling for Paul and the students, teachers and leaders of the Gillespie School District that repairs the school needs will be ready for the start of the 2009-10 school year. But it sounds as if the building is in such bad shape that the district may need to build a brand new building.

By the way, this year's Tour de Coal is slated for Saturday, Sept. 26, and registration is now open for the event. We hope we don't find another location to be the host of this year's ride.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Tour de Coal slated for Sept. 27

The Coal Country Chamber of Commerce will present the 3rd annual Tour de Coal Bicycle Ride on Saturday, Sept. 27, in Benld, Ill.

The Tour de Coal is for riders of all ages and abilities who have an interest in cycling in the Macoupin County area. As a native of Macoupin County, I'm proud to do what I can to promote cycling in the county. Many people are trying to develop trails in the county, with the long-term goal of creating a network of bicycle trails that will link St. Louis to Springfield, Ill.

Registration will be from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. at Benld Elementary School, 100 E Dorsey St. in Benld, on the morning of the event. Day-of-ride registration costs $20 per person or $50 for a household of three or more people, but you can save money by signing up in advance by mail or through Pre-registration is $15 per person or $40 for a household of three or more. You can fill out a form at the Tour de Coal Web site, and registration fliers are available at many St. Louis-area bicycle shops.

Choose from a 15-mile family ride, a mid-length 30-mile ride or a metric century. The terrain is flat to rolling with some hills in the rural countryside surrounding Benld and Gillespie. The Benld-Gillespie area is about 50 miles north of St. Louis, roughly halfway between St. Louis and Springfield, Ill.

This year's metric century route is a bit different than in the past. The course will head north of Gillespie, then south through Dorchester, Bunker Hill, Staunton and Mount Olive. For the most part, the route between Staunton and Mount Olive will be on an old alignment of Route 66, and the course passes the gravesite of Mother Jones, a major labor leader in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Last year, ride organizers were disappointed that many of the roads were freshly oil-and-chipped in the days before the ride. This year, we have received commitments from township highway supervisors that fresh oil-and-chip will not be placed on the roads in the days before the ride. (Note: This is not an absolute guarantee, but every effort has been made to avoid the problems we faced last year.) Although new oil-and-chip will be placed on a couple of the roads early this month, they should be packed down enough by the end of the month that cyclists will be able to safely navigate the course.

The ride will be held in conjunction with the 10th annual Fall Festival held at the Benld City Park, a family-oriented festival.

Proceeds from Tour de Coal and the Fall Festival will be used for community projects in Benld, Gillespie and other nearby communities.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Painting the highway: Tour de Coal

Today, Jim Marcacci and I painted arrows on the route for Saturday's Tour de Coal in Benld, Ill.

The good news about the ride: We already have more pre-registered riders for the event than we had for the entire event last year. It's good to know that people are returning to the ride and telling others about it. The event is well-supported by the communities of Benld and Gillespie and neighboring smaller towns and area law-enforcement agencies.

The bad news: Gillespie Township picked this week to put new oil and chip on many of its roads. One of the frustrating things that bicycle ride leaders in rural parts of Illinois face is the unpredictable way township highway departments decide when to do the work. Unfortunately, it's too late to do a major reroute of the course, so we will have to deal with it.

The affected areas of the route are many roads west of Illinois Route 4 and north of Illinois Route 138. The rest of the roads on the 15-, 30- and 63-mile routes are in pretty good shape.

Here's some tips for riding on freshly oil-and-chipped roads that appeared in an August newsletter of the Belleville Area Bicycling and Eating Society:
  • Ride as far to the right as safely possible, most likely on a path that has been at least partly smoothed by automobile traffic.
  • In case of approaching cars, slow down in case you have to move onto loose gravel so cars can get around you.
  • Watch out for small piles of loose gravel that go across the road. That's where the trucks dumped the last of their loads.
  • Be exceptionally careful at intersections, especially those where you will be turning, because loose gravel tends to accumulate there.
We hope the roadwork doesn't discourage you from coming to the Tour de Coal. People in the Benld-Gillespie area really work hard to make the ride a success, so come over and share in the area's rich history and coal mining heritage. The route goes near more than 20 inactive and active coal mines, plus the 63-mile route goes on an old alignment of Route 66 between Staunton and Mount Olive and visits the Mother Jones Monument in Mount Olive.

Benld is located about halfway between St. Louis and Springfield, Ill. Registration is from 7 to 9 a.m. Saturday at Benld Elementary School, but you can save money by pre-registering for the ride before 11:59 p.m. Thursday. Below is a link to a map on how to get there:

[ Yahoo! Maps ]

Directions to
100 E Dorsey St, Benld, IL 62009

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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 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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Friday, January 26, 2007

Busy, busy, busy

The Tour de Stooges and the Tour de Grape are more than three months away, the Tour de Belleville is about six months away, and the Tour de Coal ride is about eight months away. But I haven't written much here because of planning and other projects related to those three rides.

Because of the St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation's Bike Swap Meet on Sunday at the Gateway Center in Collinsville, Ill., I had to pick up the pace on getting the brochure on Tour de Stooges ready to go. I normally don't print those until late February or early March, but the meet and the deep discounts we're offering for early registration have forced me to get them printed this week.

The swap meet also forced me to attempt to fix the problem with the mailing list for the Belleville Area Bicycling and Eating Society so I can get the word out about the meet and upcoming events. I had to download an update to the Dada Mail program we use to send the newsletters, and as far as I'm aware, just about everyone received it.

I will be spending all day at the Tour de Grape booth at the meet. I have to work solo because the rest of the ride main organizers will be recovering from HavenHouse St. Louis' annual HopeFest auction that raises money for the group, which provides lodging for the families of children receiving treatment at St. Louis-area hospitals. Meanwhile, Gateway Council of Hostelling International-USA Executive Director Mark Cockson and hardy volunteers will be giving out information about that group's great rides, including Tour de Stooges and Cycle Across Missouri.

From what I understand, some people over at STLBikeFed were a little concerned about having the event in Illinois instead of Missouri. I don't think that's a big worry. People from Missouri are used to coming to Illinois for weekend bicycle rides, and it's not that difficult to drive from downtown St. Louis to Collinsville. I'm certain the Gateway Center will be a much nicer venue for the event than the previous sites, and it will help build the visibility of STLBikeFed on this side of the river.

On Monday and Tuesday, I met with organizers of Tour de Belleville and Tour de Coal.

This year's Tour de Belleville will be Friday, July 13, and will feature routes of 7 and 14. Money raised from the event will be used to purchase emergency phones for the Richland Creek Greenway/MetroLink Trail. Last year was the first year for the event, and it drew about 500 cyclists.

Tour de Coal, also in its second year, will be Saturday, Sept. 22, in Benld, Ill. Organizers were encouraged by the turnout on a cool, cloudy day, and they're expecting a nice turnout for the event. Tour de Coal features routes of 15, 30 and 63 through the flat-to-rolling rural scenery of southern Macoupin County.

Here's hoping next week I have more time to spend on the indoor trainer!

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