by John Byrne Barry
Tour de Force
When Minnesota volunteer Keith Bellairs coined the phrase "tour de sprawl" five years ago, he had no idea he was launching a Sierra Club franchise.
The North Star Chapter kicked off the first Tour de Sprawl in October 1996, with a hundred bicyclists pedaling from St. Paul to Stillwater. Since then, the Club has sponsored more than a hundred Tours de Sprawl, not to mention the many variations on the theme -- Tours de Flood, Tours de Wetlands and so on.
John Muir believed the best way to get people to care about wild areas was to take them there. That's why the Club's Outings program was born 100 years ago. These Tours de Whatever turn Muir's maxim on its head and get people out to see things we want stopped, not protected.
Minnesota volunteer Deb Alper helped organize the first Tour de Sprawl. "While brainstorming ways to make people aware of unsound development, we came up with a twist on the "parade of homes" and combined it with a local version of the Tour de France - a bicycle trip to show examples of good and bad development."
The tour was a smashing success and the idea spread quickly. In 1997, there were tours in Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Kentucky as well. Though the first tours were mainly on bicycles, subsequent ones have relied on buses or vans to get public officials, media and interested citizens to the featured sites.
This past October, forest organizer Dave Muhly led a group of Club members on a Tour de Cut through the George Washington National Forest in Virginia where he showed them what a clearcut looks like. It wasn't pretty.
Nor was Aloma Dew's Tour de Stench in neighboring Kentucky, which gave participants a chance to wake up and smell the coffee up close, only it wasn't coffee, it was manure from huge chicken factories. In Michigan, Dan Farough held a similar foray, dubbing his the Tour de Manure.
Next on tap, Tours de Traffic, to raise awareness of the need for more transit spending. The Challenge to Sprawl Campaign is offering mini-grants in targeted locations. To find out more, contact Brett Hulsey at firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out the "how-to" on the Club's Website.
And never underestimate the power of a good name.
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