Looking more like America's bicycling capital
With the first of three planned murals almost finished on a downtown building, Sparta is looking more and more like the Bicycling Capital of America.
Julie Freyholt, a freelance artist from Madison, and her assistant/mother, Ginny Vornholt of Danville, Ind., were well on their way Wednesday to completing a large mural on the side of the former Denton's Hobby Shop, depicting scenes on the Elroy-Sparta Bicycle Trail and Tunnel 3.
Freyholt expected the mural, which is 75-feet long and 27 feet at its highest point, to be mostly done by today (Thursday) as long as the weather holds out.
They will then move to a wall just up Water Street on the side of the Captain's Corner Barbershop building to begin work on the second mural. That wall painting will have a bridge theme in the same style and colors.
The actual designs for the murals were done by Michael Valenti, a graphic artist from Illinois whose artwork can be found all over the world. He specializes in designing posters for bicycling events and cycling-related organizations.
He was commissioned by the Sparta Chamber of Commerce, which is partnering with the City of Sparta on the project, to produce three posters that have been adapted into the murals.
Chamber Director John Hendricks said he met Valenti at a bike expo in Iowa. Valenti visited Sparta before completing the artwork for the posters. The third mural likely won't be done this year.
That one will be going on the Franklin Street side of the McClain Realty building on North Water Street. However, the wall is in need of some repair work before it can be painted. That mural will be a "stylized" version of Ben Bikin, according to Hendricks.
He said the idea for the murals came about because there isn't much in downtown that shouts Bicycling Capital of America, the appellation the city bestowed upon itself because of its proximity to two state bike trails, one of which was the first rails-to-trails project in the U.S.
The city has taken other steps to remedy that oversight. It's added a bike lane between the Chamber Depot and Ben Bikin Park, connecting the bike trail to the downtown district via a bike path that begins near the Ben Biking statue, winding its way through Evans-Bosshard Park to Main Street.
In addition, the city has installed bicycle repair stations at the Chamber Depot and in Amundson Park. There are two others proposed for outside the Deke Slayton Museum and at Meadowview Schools.
Hendricks said the city also has applied for a DNR grant to build a bike shelter downtown on Main Street just east of the Healthy Touch building. It also plans to install more bike racks in downtown.
But the murals will be the most visible acknowledgment of city's bicycling theme. According to Hendricks, local merchants will be able to use the posters' images to reproduce on coffee mugs, t-shirts or other merchandise, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Chamber.