You may not realize it, but behind the LHT is a whole cast of characters working to keep the trail safe and thriving. Our all-volunteer board – a group of Mercer County residents with different areas of expertise and a range of interests – keeps the rest of us hiking and biking. It’s time to shine a light on these folks in a new series: Meet Our Board.
Meet Mike Gray, owner of Sourland Cycles in Hopewell. Former LHT project manager and new board member, Gray’s background is diverse – having lived all over the world and worked in a variety of different jobs. One constant: A passion for biking.
LHT: Can you share a biography or statement regarding professional life and involvement in the LHT?
Mike: I have had a variety of jobs over the years: Newspaper reporter, freelance writer, healthcare consulting, partner in a healthcare communications agency, and then project manager for the Lawrence Hopewell Trail. Now, Sourland Cycles.
LHT: How did you discover the LHT? How did you end up getting involved?
Mike: I had been using parts of it to explore new areas and following its progress in the media. In 2009, a friend from the Trenton Bike Exchange told me the LHT was looking for a project manager and I applied for the job. I still think it was one of the best jobs I have ever had as I got to work with a great bunch of people, use a lot of different skills, and work on a project that was going to benefit the community, not just cyclists. So, when I was asked about joining the board in 2020, I thought it was a way to continue to contribute to this project.
LHT: What are your favorite spots along the trail? How do they inspire you?
Mike: I will try and pick something different – the Brearley House Connection to the Delaware & Raritan Canal. To me this section epitomizes the trail: It connects to a main trail artery and that is what has allowed the LHT to successfully apply for grants and state and federal funding and it connects the history of the area. You can see the work of the early dikes holding back the water for creating farmland – that is now the trail connector. You can be totally isolated in nature; and it connects public and private land through a mutual agreement with a private land holder, another special trait of the LHT.
LHT: As the full trail nears completion, what do you think is next for the LHT?
Mike: The need to secure maintenance agreements and funding agreements with both public and private sectors or even volunteer groups. The COVID-19 epidemic has seen bikes and bike trails be declared essential, but there is unlikely to be any increase (more like a decrease) in funding due to the loss of state and federal revenue and general spending on bike trails and alternative transportation now and in the next few years, I fear.
Secondly, we should be making connections into neighboring communities and completing the connection into Hopewell borough. This will engage many more people and organizations and convert them from passive users to advocates for the trail and similar projects.
LHT: How has your experience as a cyclist informed or affected your work with the LHT?
Mike: I have been a bike rider all my life, I’m from a family of cyclists. My 83-year old mother still cycles almost every day, weather permitting. I have biked everywhere I have lived and worked in the US, Canada, and Europe. The lack of cycling infrastructure in the US is remarkable, but I feel that is changing as municipal engineers become more aware of alternatives and realize that their job is not just to move cars more quickly through their city. Cyclists are resilient, but it takes other riders and community leaders to make cycling more accessible and approachable and safer and to encourage others to get on their bikes – for transportation, exercise, simply relaxation, and these days, to safely just get out of the house!
Mike Gray at the Sourland Cycles table, LHT Full Moon Ride 2018
LHT: Are there any parts of the trail that are of particular interest to you, as a cyclist?
Mike: The connections, where private landowners or corporations have opened up their campus or property to the public. That inspires me and they would not do it unless there was a reputable organization of community leaders behind it.
LHT: Sourland Cycles is such a unique bike store — was that the intention upon founding? Can you tell us a little about how the shop’s mission is different in regards to staff, women shoppers, charity outreach, etc.?
Mike: Yes, it was our intention from the start – to create an attractive retail space that could be multipurpose and show off bikes and gear in better way. I would not have done this shop had we not been able to own and build a new space with the older store front and restore the barn. It gives us the space that most shops don’t have or can’t afford. Our service focus, and the community activities, charity events, and donations are simply an extension of our team of people. We are trying to create a welcoming space for all types of people, not just those who think of themselves as “cyclists.” “Doing what Amazon can’t every day,” is our slogan.
LHT: Please share any words of advice or encouragement for amateur cyclists exploring the LHT.
Mike: I think the biggest thing is you have to accept the fact that you might be confused or “lost” for five minutes but keep going because the reward is great. You have to realize that this is not a rail trail and it was not done all at once as a massive state project. It was done in small increments with public and private land and as you know, in New Jersey, this is a crowded place, so it is never easy. But keep pedaling or walking, because around the next corner, you will say, “oh, yeah, this connects to that section,” Or, “so this is where that goes.” It is worth it; and you can’t go too far wrong.