Cycling Through is an ongoing project in Limburg, Belgium, where three stages of the project are realised (Cycling Through Heathland, Cycling Through Trees, and Cycling Through Water) with further ‘Cycling Through the Underground’ still underway.
The project deals with the restructuring of the Limburg area, where coal mining was closed throughout the 1980s and 1990s. A new identity and strategy for the province were envisioned, namely cycling tourism, that would take visitors out in the landscape and emphasise both the natural and cultural/industrial heritage. The team at Tourism Limburg was inspired by the Norway Tourist Routes, specifically how they connect scenic places and design.- from the award statements
‘Cycling through the Heathland’ is a 4-kilometre cycle route that traverses the only national park in Belgium. You cross the Mechelse Heide between cycle nodes 550 and 551 on the cycle node network. Rural views across the heathland are interspersed with rugged pine forests. One of the highlights of this route is a 300-metre-long cycling bridge, which forms a feature in the landscape. Just like a roller-coaster, the cycling bridge is made up of a fine-knit structure of beams and columns. Between the wooden structures, a concrete cycle path gradually rises (maximum 4%) to 6.5 m high then descends after 30 metres.
The walls of the bridge offer a nod to Limburg’s mining heritage and are made of local pine wood. The ‘cycling pontoon’ thus clearly refers back to its environment; a culturally historic landscape in which masses of pine trees were planted in order to fulfil the demand for wood for the coal mines. The weight-bearing structure was made of Azobé, a very strong wood variety. At the top of the cycling bridge, you have a broad view of the national park. In the distance, you can see horses grazing and various other animals in their natural habitat. The cycle path, at 3.5 m wide, offers plenty of space for cyclists and walkers to pass each other in two directions.
‘Cycling through the Heathland’ cuts through the Hoge Kempen National Park. It’s an exceptional connection because you cycle right through the Mechelse Heide which, at 700 hectares, is one of the largest areas of heathland in Flanders. In the north, you cycle on a path filled with stunning views of the heathland. The new, iconic wooden cycle bridge forms a genuine feature in the landscape. The cycling bridge also provides a safe crossing point over the ‘Weg naar Zutendaal’ and offers a beautiful view of the natural environment. In the south, this construction was incorporated in an old tree lane and, from here, connects to the existing cycle node network.
The cycling experience is a cycle path through the crowns of the trees that consists of a sleek double circle with iconic allures. It is located in Bosland, the biggest forest area in Flanders, at junction 272 of the Limburg cycle node network.
The path is 700 meters long and gradually rises 3-4% to a height of 10 meters – and then descends again after 9 meters. The diameter of the bridge is 100 meters. The cycle path was built in PU coating and steel, supported on narrow corten steel columns (diameter 20 cm) and provided with a railing with a stainless steel net structure. Steel construction was chosen because it is a material with a long service life, the stability calculations are then simpler, it is easy to maintain and it provides a slender construction.
In 2014 the search for the best location to develop ‘Cycling through Water’ pointed out Bokrijk. Here a bicycle path between two ponds already existed, which limited the ecological impact. In April 2016 ‘Cycling through Water’ opened, an experience bike trail through a pond of the De Wijers nature reserve in Bokrijk-Genk. Since its opening, more than 300.000 cyclists have visited the cycling path.