By Linda Picone
Once he got on a bicycle, David Minge was hooked. It’s not that he was into racing, or that he had all the fanciest bicycles and equipment. He just loved the feel of getting himself from place to place on his own two wheels. “As long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed bicycling,” he says.
Minge, who grew up in Worthington, MN, went to St. Olaf College and then to law school at the University of Chicago. He worked at a law firm in Minneapolis, taught at the University of Wyoming College of Law, moved back to Minnesota and practiced law in Montevideo for 15 years, then was elected to Congress in 1992 and lived part of the time in Washington, DC. He moved back to Minnesota and was appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 2002.
Wherever he’s lived — Worthington, Chicago, Wyoming, Montevideo, Washington DC or the Twin Cities, Minge has used a bike for both transportation and recreation. “It was a way of getting to school and to activities” when he was growing up. “In college, we couldn’t have cars, so a bike was useful. Even when I was in law school, we used a bike to get around in Chicago and to do a little bit more exploring on weekends.” In Wyoming, he biked in the mountains. In Montevideo, where he lived for 27 years, “we lived on a farm and I biked into town to work.”
Biking was so much a part of who he was, that when he decided to run for Congress and his political team was looking for a gimmick, “Th ey said, ‘What could we have you do that would be cheap and memorable?’ Friends said, ‘Well, he rides a bike.’”
Minge led a bicycle ride throughout his Congressional District, a 10-day, almost 500-mile trip. He got elected, and every year after that while he was in Congress, he led a bicycle trip on Labor Day weekend. “Friends and family would join me as the loyal core,” he says. “After I left Congress, it seemed like a good weekend to get together with the same people.”
He brought the idea of an organized annual bicycle ride to the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota in 2005, thinking that it fit the mission of the organization and emphasized the importance of trails for biking and hiking. Bike Minnesota with Parks & Trails has continued Minge’s traditional ride, and taken it farther.
“We started out going to areas where I personally knew the routes, knew the towns, knew the attractions,” says Minge. “But last year and this year, we’re doing towns in southeast Minnesota that are very beautiful and interesting areas to explore — and new to me.”
Bike Minnesota is about the trails and the ride, of course, but it also off ers a chance to see and learn about the areas around the trail. Last year’s ride included a stop at a Swedish immigrant church that had been preserved by the farm community around it, plus a visit to a wind farm that included a tour inside the base of the wind turbine. A dairy farmer explained the fine points of running a 21st century operation — “and we saw a calf being born right before our eyes.”
That partnership with local organizations is an important connection for Bike Minnesota, he says. “If it weren’t for groups like the Houston County Economic Development Authority or, last year, a local trail advocacy group called Prairie Visions, it would be very diffi cult to make it all happen,” he says. “That type of local participation has become a major dimension of the ride. You make contact with the local community, and see things from the local perspective.”
Minge and his wife, Karen, have been active outdoors people since before their two sons were born and continued as the boys grew and then started their own families. To encourage a love of the outdoors in your children, he says, you have to take them outdoors—and persist even if they complain. Identify activities that children will be interested in and that are appropriate for their ages, he says. To get them involved in biking, start with short rides and a destination that has something for the kids to see and participate in, with a short ride back home.
Minge was on the board of the Montevideobased Minnesota Trails Initiative after he left Congress. When he moved into the Twin Cities, he was encouraged to join the board of the Parks & Trails Council. He was one of the founders of Clean Up the River Environment in Montevideo and is on the boards of the Minnesota Land Trust and the Friends of the Minnesota Valley. He has served on the Minnesota State Bicycle Advisory Committee and is the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota’s only representative on the newly created Metropolitan
Parks Foundation. Minge also is a longtime member of the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota’s Magney Circle.