Kitchi-Mi-Kana means good roads

A couple with a tandem bicycle is pictured. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — Marquette has become synonymous with biking, encompassing many different disciplines. The county is spoiled with world-class single track mountain biking trails, winding county roads for cyclists, and miles of decommissioned rail lines for gravel riders.

The popularity of local trails is ever expanding, with Marquette’s trails being featured on websites such as bikemag.com, mtbproject.com, alltrails.com, and mtbparks.com among others. Marquette County even hosts several biking events such as Trails Fest, Ore to Shore, and the Fall Enduro that bring in thousands of people from across the country.

The growing love for biking in this community is obvious. For example how often do you see trucks with bikes on the tailgate? Or cars with bike racks attached to the hitch? You would be hard pressed to travel a block and not see a bike hanging off a car.

The origin of biking in Marquette is closely tied to early urban development. Starting in 1890, the roads of Marquette began to improve dramatically and soon were filled with cycling enthusiasts. A recollection from July 1895 states that there was a parade of “60 or more” cyclists touring around town, touting their new bikes. An unnamed author of a 1935 local newspaper article recalled biking in 1896 as a “cycling epidemic.”

That same year the Kitchi-Mi-Kana Bike Club was formed. The name “Kitchi-Mi-Kana” is derived from the Chippewa phrase for “good roads,” showing the members’ appreciation for the improvement to local streets.

The old Presque Isle Road, now Lakeshore Boulevard in Marquette, is seen. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Regional History Center)

In the group’s first year, they had 168 members, with 60 of them being women. The Kitchi-Mi-Kana bike club organized public cycling spectacles. There were parades, races downtown, and two-mile track races, all of which brought in large crowds.

Their parades, or group rides, became a common scene in downtown Marquette on summer evenings. Though most participants were members of Kitchi-Mi-Kana, many spectators grabbed their own bikes and joined the ride.

Public events were not the only organizing done by Kitchi-Mi-Kana. Most cycling events they group planned occurred in the downtown area, likely due to that being where the smoothest roads were. The group also used their newly garnered power to push for cycling-specific urban development. They persuaded the local government to build the city’s first bike path, donating $550 and convincing the city to cover the rest.

The path started at the top of Third Street heading out to Presque Isle, then heading back. The new path was narrow and made of hard packed clay, which was happily approved by the cyclists. Prior to this path, the only road going out to Presque Isle was a sandy and rocky road, not at all suited for the bikes of the time.

Even though the early years of biking are marked by extreme popularity and rapid growth, the “cycling epidemic” would not last. The new exposure of other leisure pastimes, such as golf, began to curb the prevalence of biking. Seemingly, the Kitchi-Mi-Kana bike group had quickly run its course by the early twentieth century. That was until the early 2000s, when the familiar name reared its head again. The Kitchi-Mi-Kana bike group was revived in 2006.

The group was reestablished on similar grounds, a co-ed club welcome to cyclists of all levels of experience. They hosted educational events on bike maintenance, technique, and etiquette. Membership in the non-profit only cost $5 annually. Their non-profit status was dissolved as of 2012, but they group did continue for a couple years.

The last official online post made by them was from 2013, promoting their upcoming annual meeting. There also was a sign-up event for the KMK in April or 2015 at Border Grill, but nothing since. Hopefully the historic name will resurface in the future.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today