ENVIRONMENT: Riding for rivers – TC businessman raises $17,000 for river program

TRAVERSE CITY – A Traverse City businessman has become a “spokes” man for the environment, having biked across the country for our region’s rivers.

Last fall, Jeff Graft, regional manager and equity partner in Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf, rode 4,000 miles to raise awareness and money–$17,000 to date–for the Conservation Resource Alliance’s newly-launched River Care Program.

The program is designed to protect the natural features of northwest Michigan’s rivers, while improving their water quality, fishery and wildlife habitat. Erosion control, plantings, stairways and road crossing improvements are a few examples of the work completed by the CRA.

“CRA is a lean, effective organization with a quality staff of sharp people,” commented Jeff Graft, 32. “The crew consists of wildlife biologists and other professionals–the director even has a master’s in chemical engineering. These are bright people doing excellent work.”

Graft left Seattle, Wash., on Sept. 12 and reached the Atlantic Ocean on Nov. 18. His route from Seattle took him east across the Cascade Mountains, then south down the Rockies through Idaho, Utah and Colorado.

After reaching Kansas he wheeled east across the southern plains and finished his coast-to-coast trip in Savannah, Ga. He rode solo, without a tent or support vehicle, and his daily progress was charted on All Outdoors, (www.Alloutdoors.com) a hunting and fishing web site based out of Traverse City.

“There are definitely easier paths traversing the continent–but not many as beautiful,” shared Graft, who has both an MBA and a physics degree. “With a cheap altimeter I carried, I calculated that I climbed 50,600 feet or the equivalent of 17 big mountain passes. But I loved the challenge of the climbs and the wonderful 20-mile descents.”

Interestingly, Graft is not a cyclist at all, but an avid fly fisherman.

“Prior to shaking hands with CRA’s Amy Beyer and deciding to ride 4,000 miles solo across the country, my longest ride on a bike was 25 miles,” he noted. “On days in which I only rode, I covered 100 miles a day. But I was often lured off my bike by the river gods to flyfish. Early on, flyfishing was definitely an impediment to progress!”

When designing his route, he considered three main variables: 1. insuring close proximity to major markets to provide maximum exposure for the sponsors, 2. keeping to rural routes and country roads to avoid traffic, to meet real people and to enjoy the scenery, and 3. “choosing a route that followed some of the premier rivers out West so I could fly fish a bit!”

One of Graft’s top reasons for making this trek is simple and poignant: “So I can take my grandson flyfishing in northern Michigan and not have to say ‘back when I was a kid, this river used to really hold some beautiful trout.'”

The CRA will recognize Graft’s efforts and his supporters this month at a press conference.

Individuals and corporations can still make tax-deductible donations to recognize Graft’s Riding for Rivers accomplishment.

For more information, contact CRA at 946-6817 or e-mail cra@traverse.com. BIZNEWS