Smart Commute Week challenges area businesses, residents to get out of the car

The Top of Michigan Trails Council is promoting alternatives to motorized transportation by offering a challenge to Petoskey area residents.

Bike, hike or take a bus, just don't drive to work the week of June 3-7 if you live in Petoskey or the surrounding area. The Top of Michigan Trails Council is hosting their fourth annual Emmet County Smart Commute Week to create awareness for finding alternative ways to get to work, according to executive director Jeff Winegard.
        
"We think it's a good idea for people to find alternative ways to travel by biking or walking. It's a good way to save money, get exercise and lessen our carbon footprint," says Winegard.

It's also a good way to bring people in the community and area businesses together for a common goal. Each year the event hosts a Smart Commute Commuter Cup Challenge. It's a friendly competition among local businesses and organizations to compete to see who can encourage the highest percentage of employees to walk, bike, carpool or use public transportation to get to work or other destinations around town.

Area businesses get involved by taking turns offering free breakfast, a happy hour event and entry to a grand prize drawing for a bike, walking poles, bike helmet and various gift certificates.
        
"We had 20 sponsors starting off four years ago," says Winegard. "Now we have 50...it's growing." He says they're also up to about 400 participants. "Ultimately, we'd like to see it broaden to include even more people."

If you think you live too far from your Petoskey destination to hoof it or bike, that's no excuse, and no problem, say organizers of the event. "Smart lots" are available where you can drive partway and bike or walk in the rest of the way, or meet up with others in many public carpool lots. A list of smart lots and carpool lots are available on the council's website.

Winegard says the event is patterned after Traverse City, which has held a large event for several years now. This year event organizers in TC are putting the pressure on Petoskey residents to get involved in smart commuting by challenging them to see who garners the highest percentage of commuters; the winning city will win the Commuter Cup and all the bragging rights that go with it.

The Top of Michigan Trails Council's Smart Commute Committee also will educate people on all things relating to smart commuting including learning what's available in public transportation and the health and environmental benefits of commuting by hosting the following events:

-Wednesday, June 5 will be "Try Transit Day" with various routes posted online.

-Learn more about the health and environmental benefits of biking or walking to work by joining the Free Smart Commute Open House on Thursday, May 30 from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. at Latitude 45 in Petoskey, which will also be your last chance to sign up for the Commuter Cup Challenge.

This year's event was expanded to include and encourage folks outside of their workplaces to get involved. Organizers say they have created a division for neighborhood groups, school classes, service clubs, senior centers and even coffee clubs to get involved in the competition, including a chance to win the prizes. Individuals can also sign up for the event and be eligible for the breakfasts and prizes.

The Top of Michigan Trails Council believes in developing and maintaining recreational trails in northern Lower Michigan. These trails help support a healthy tourism base, according to Winegard.

For more information on the fourth annual Emmet County Smart Commute Week or to register for the event, visit the council's website.

Neil Moran is a freelance writer/copywriter and owner of Haylake Business Communications.
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