Shawnee Bluffs

May 13, 2015

SBDC helps entrepreneur’s dreams become reality

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Marc Miles, Southern Illinois veterinarian, inventor and entrepreneur, is no newcomer to Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Illinois Small Business Development Center and the many services it offers, so it’s no surprise he sought help there when launching his latest endeavor, a mountain bike park. 

He came to the center in 2002 for help getting his Miles Equine Gizmo (MEG) mobile chute to market. Miles created the chute as a safe, efficient tool people can use to handle horses during procedures that could place people in harm’s way. The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) assisted Miles with business planning and exploring financing options. Equine veterinarians around the United States and Canada now use MEG. 

Fast forward a few years and Miles had dreams of building a world-class zip line canopy tour in Southern Illinois. He again sought the expertise and planning assistance available at the Small Business Development Centers at SIU and at Shawnee Community College. He purchased 83 acres of pristine land in Union County, surrounded by the Shawnee Forest. 

He hired zip line builder Geronimo Construction and secured funding to make Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour a reality in April 2013. The eco-friendly attraction, which has attracted visitors from all over, provides great views of the area’s terrain as participants soar through the trees at speeds approaching 40 mph and traverse high, suspension foot bridges. 

In order to draw even more visitors to the area and highlight its beauty, Miles recently commissioned the International Mountain Bike Association to design a world-class bike park on the site, featuring 7-8 miles of single track trail including four bridges. It will have difficulty levels ranging from beginner to expert and there will also be a skills course and a pump track located near the Welcome Center. In addition, plans call for adding special, purpose-built trails that are accessible for all-terrain motorized wheelchairs to allow disabled veterans, first responders and others who use wheelchairs to enjoy the forest. 

As planning began for the new mountain bike park, Miles again contacted the SBDC at SIU to help make the bike park a reality. The SBDC, in conjunction with the Saluki C.E.O. Corps, a registered student organization hosted by the College of Business and the Office of Economic and Regional Development, worked with Miles. 

They created a marketing plan to promote the new park and developed a fundraising plan featuring a crowdfunding page to help raise the $350,000 needed to construct the park. The page seeks donations from the public and in exchange, donors get rewards, including passes to the trail when it opens. The Saluki C.E.O. Corps student organization, with Brandon Nolte as president and students of all majors as participants, gives students hands-on experience in what running a business is all about. 

“This is a great project that has brought together the university and a regional business. This showcases the incredible talents and dedication of our students at SIU as well as the many services our office offers and it also helps promote a new Southern Illinois tourism venue,” Greg Bouhl, director of the SBDC and assistant director of entrepreneurship and business development at SIU, said. 

The Illinois Small Business Development Center/International Trade Center is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and hosted by Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

For more information about the SBDC or the numerous services it provides to new and growing businesses, contact Robyn Laur Russell at or 618/536-2424.