Could an Estacada-Detroit bikeway boost tourism? That's the hope

PORTLAND, Ore. - A 72-mile route between Estacada and Detroit along Highway 224 may be added to the growing list of 'scenic bikeways' in Oregon and folks in both towns can't wait to see it happen.

The state's Scenic Bikeways program, established in 2011, is modeled after the "Scenic Byways" program that's geared towards people traveling in vehicles. It's a partnership between Cycle Oregon, Travel Oregon, the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

The two towns have been working together for a couple of years on getting the scenic bikeway designation. Bike travel pumps millions of dollars into Oregon's economy and getting a bigger slice of that pie is appealing.

After submitting their initial application, the route was rated and met the criteria for a scenic bikeway, according to Alex Phillips with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. She coordinates the bikeways program and said the next step is for both Estacada and Detroit to submit a bikeway plan that outlines how they would incorporate the designation into what they already do.

Once the bikeway plan is ironed out, an official meeting will be held to get input from the public (although Phillips said they encourage input throughout the entire process). Finally, the proposed route will go before the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission for a final vote.

What it would mean for Detroit

For the people who live and work in Detroit, a small lakeside tourist town about 45 miles southeast of Salem, this was a no-brainer.

"The highway we're talking about is already a scenic byway for vehicles and it's also part of a bikeway from Canada to Mexico," said Dean O'Donnell, owner of Mountain High Grocery in Detroit. "So it's already on the map and recognized by a lot of bicyclists."

"We have a lot of bicyclists come through here," said Detroit Mayor Shari Flanders, who also owns and operates the All Seasons Motel in town. "We had a tour group come through last year. They rented my place and the other motel. All the cyclists that did the route said it's beautiful and a wonderful ride with amazing views."

"Last year, we had a group that flew in from Wisconsin and Michigan," said Teresa Pratt, co-owner of The Experience Store, which rents kayaks and paddle boards at the lake. "It was a group of 40 bikers that started in Seattle and ended in Bend. So they made this stop and they were so thrilled with how beautiful it was."

The town of Detroit relies heavily on tourism, which is its economic base. They are always looking for ways to extend their busy season (which runs from approximately May to September) and add recreational opportunities to what they already offer. And they're not just trying to attract more Oregonians.

"It's hopefully going to draw people globally, not just locally or regionally," said Michael Miller, co-owner of The Experience Store. "There are a lot of international bike riders that would love to have a destination such as Detroit. And that bikeway - it's a beautiful path. It's lightly traveled by cars and trucks and it's perfect for cycling."

"The European people that have come through here - they'll go like three weeks on a bicycle," said Flanders. "I'm like 'you do that for vacation?' And they go 'yeah, we love it!'"

It's that kind of opportunity to increase tourist traffic that has Detroit area businesses excited about the possibility of getting the scenic bikeways designation.

"I think it's a good idea," said Kathy Snyder, co-owner of KC's Espresso and Deli. "We already have a lot of people that ride bikes through on the highway (Highway 22) and it'll definitely help business."

"Everyone is really happy about this," said Yvonne Messmer with the Detroit Lake Recreation Area Business Association. She has been leading the charge on this project. "We're going to be installing bike racks and some bike service stations and we'll have some tools. A lot of the businesses are very aware of what riders need."

What it would mean for Estacada

While Detroit is hoping to cash in on cyclists staying the night, stopping to eat and perhaps tuning up their bikes, Estacada (just outside Portland) has a slightly different goal. They would like to be the anchor point for the proposed route and want cyclists to see their town as a place where they can get outfitted for their trip.

"We hope they'll stop for supplies and amenities that will make their visit better," said Phil Lingelbach, chair of the Estacada Development Association.

Lingelbach said they are hoping to get a large sporting goods store interested in opening up in town and have been reaching out to Portland outdoor businesses that might want to establish an annex in Estacada.

The city's plan also involves adding some bike racks throughout town and providing parking for cyclists who want to leave their vehicle in Estacada while they ride. The central point would be City Hall, which would have free parking available.

Lingelbach also wants Estacada to be an information hub for cyclists before they head up into the Mt. Hood National Forest. For example, cyclists could find out where they can camp or hike and what kinds of scenery they'll come across along the way. They could also get important information that would impact their ride - like whether a road is washed out, a tree has fallen across the highway or part of the route is snowed in.

Is the route safe for cyclists?

We recently took a drive along the route and while it was certainly beautiful, we did notice that there wasn't much room for cyclists for much of the trip.

"What we look at is the daily traffic load, which is very low for that road," said program coordinator Alex Phillips. "And by ODOT guidelines, there is no recommendation for a lane."

"The big thing that it comes down to is what type of cyclist would this be marketed to," Phillips pointed out. "That is not by any stretch of the imagination a beginner or novice route."

The scenic bikeways are rated either mild, moderate, challenging or extreme. Phillips said this route, if approved by the commission, would most likely be rated extreme or, at the very least, challenging.

Among locals, the general consensus we found was that safety would not be much of an issue because the highway is not heavily traveled.

"For a lot of people who haven't done a lot of bicycle riding, it scares them to think they're out there with cars," said Phil Lingelbach with the Estacada Development Association. He is also an experienced cyclist. "Yes, there are things - you may occasionally encounter logging trucks. Those are primarily during the week. But the volume of traffic is relatively low and the road is all paved. There are some spots where there might be debris along the shoulders, but I've encountered that everywhere."

Michael Layman, owner of the Cedars Restaurant & Lounge in Detroit, also doesn't think it would be too much of a problem, even though he did acknowledge that at least on his end of the route, it's a tight fit for cyclists.

"When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike from Detroit to Breitenbush and I can say there's been a couple of close calls," he said. "It's definitely a sketchy road, but I lived out in Italy for two years where you go around a corner and there could be 200 bicyclists just out of nowhere. I think they're more accustomed to it over there than we are here."

Others in Detroit said they have seen the dangers that cyclists face on the heavily traveled Highway 22, which takes them toward Sisters and Bend, but they wouldn't expect the same kind of issues on Highway 224.

"Riding Highway 22 - you're pretty much sometimes taking your life in your own hands," said Kathy Snyder with KC's Espresso and Deli. "There aren't very many pull-outs or anything like that."

"When I was first here, bicycles weren't the thing," said longtime area resident Darrlene Mann, who likes the idea of the scenic bikeway. "But you're just seeing more and more of them. And I hate to see them on Highway 22."

Cyclists and their economic impact

A recent study prepared for Travel Oregon by Dean Runyan Associates outlines how much of an impact cyclists have on our economy.

According to the report, which took a look at 2012's numbers, around $400 million was brought into the state last year for accommodations, food services, groceries, motor fuel, cycling event fees, bicycle repairs, clothing and gear. And it supported around 4,600 jobs.

Add to that the nearly $18 million in local and state taxes (the taxes you pay for lodging, etc.) and that's quite an industry.

So where are Oregon travelers spending the most on cycling activities?

The Portland metropolitan area, Willamette Valley and Central Oregon top the list, followed by the Oregon Coast, Columbia River Gorge/Mt. Hood, Southern Oregon and Eastern Oregon (in that order).

Oregon's other scenic bikeways

There are currently 11 Scenic Bikeways in Oregon:

Mild - A fun, casual ride appropriate for all ages. There is little to no traffic, the route is mostly flat and it's not very long.

Moderate - Not for beginners, but it won't be too difficult. There are varying levels of traffic and some hills, but none that are overly long or steep.

Challenging - For those who cycle a lot and are looking for a good, hard ride. Not for the casual cyclist.

Extreme - For the hard-core cyclists in search of an epic journey. You have to be in tip-top shape, be able to climb steep hills and be able to deal with changes in elevation.

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