Jul. 28, 2011
This week, eyes will turn to the 8,000 to 10,000 (who knows for sure?) bicyclists and supporters who have descended on Iowa to participate in RAGBRAI. For one week, bike tourism grabs our attention as Iowans and visitors from around the world enjoy our heartland hospitality.
Now if we could just get more of those cyclists to return to Iowa and enjoy our scenic trails and low-traffic county roads.
We will. Cycle Central Iowa, a new map and guide produced by the Des Moines Bicycle Collective, promotes 18 well-tested routes incorporating our network of trails and low-traffic county roads in 11 counties. We believe this is Iowa’s first region-wide effort to promote bike tourism.
It’s long overdue. And it’s pretty good stuff — certainly worthy of a trip to Iowa and an overnight for any of the loops. For example, in the Ames and Boone area, our route scouts recommend four loops:
The Skunk and Scandinavians (49 miles) including Roland, Story City, and a scenic pedal on County Road R61 along the Skunk River. Park your bike and poke around Story City to soak up some Scandinavian heritage.
Iowa Isn’t Flat (41 miles) including Boone, Ogden, and a couple of traverses through the Des Moines River valley. Need more hills? Head for Pilot Mound. And be sure to refuel at the Country Chit Chat in Ogden.
River Valleys and Trail Art (57 miles) including Ames, Boone, and an awesome section of the High Trestle Trail. If you’re hungry (and you will be) we’ve highlighted four Casey’s General Stores along the route plus a sprinkling of restaurants and pubs.
Heart of Nature, Heart of Iowa (25 miles) including Ames, Nevada, and Cambridge. If you leave Nevada or Cambridge hungry, you’ve missed some great small-town hospitality.
Let’s catch the leaders: Some neighboring states do a remarkable job of promoting bike tourism:
Two-wheel tourism along Missouri’s 237-mile KATY Trail has revived communities. Rocheport, near Columbia, is a prime example.
Wisconsin, one of the leaders in statewide trail systems, has pumped state tourism money into cycling promotion of its roads and trails.
In Minnesota, just a stone’s throw north of Decorah, Lanesboro now bills itself as the Capital of Minnesota B&Bs. Bike tourism revved up Lanesboro’s remarkable story.
Back here in Iowa, the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association is one group that clearly understands trail promotion. Behind the leadership of Carla and Chuck Offenburger, they have knitted together community support from Waukee and Jefferson. Next year, an additional trail from Herndon to Perry and south to Waukee (portions already completed) will form a 72-mile loop — the longest hard-surface loop in the U.S. (Generally, cyclists prefer the variety of loops over out-and-back routes.)
Credit-card tours via bike: Elsewhere in the U.S., communities are learning that bike tourism generates welcome dollars. Multi-day trips are becoming popular. Among cyclists, it’s labeled credit-card tours — park the car, slide a credit card and a change of clothes on the bike, and point the handlebars toward low-traffic roads and trails. Along the way, eat in small town cafes, stay in B&Bs or motels, and soak up small-town hospitality. Can it get any better than this?
A survey of other states indicates that bikes matter. According to the group American Trails, “A 2008 survey of trail users on Pennsylvania’s Great Allegheny Passage revealed that 41 percent said that they stayed overnight in the vicinity of the trail for at least one night during their visit. These individuals reported spending approximately $100 per day, including lodging, while using the trail.”
American Trails added: “Our general rule of thumb regarding spending is that day-trippers from outside the immediate area spend four times as much as local cyclists, and multi-day cyclists spend twice as much per day as day-trippers. Those who take long-distance, multi-day bicycling vacations spend between $100 and $300 per day on food, lodging, and other items, with ‘credit-card cyclists’ typically near the upper end of this range.”
For my money, these are impressive numbers that require little additional investment in what’s already here: splendid paved trails and a welcoming network of county roads and communities across Iowa.
Numbers like this should grab the attention of all Iowa communities. We hope you enjoy our new map, and support organizations like Hy-Vee and Casey’s General Stores that made it possible. Send a map to far-away friends and invite them to join you in the pleasure of exploring Iowa by bike. All our communities will benefit.
Maps are available at Hy-Vee stores, Casey’s General Stores, 11 supporting bike shops, and six bike-friendly B&Bs. You can find information online at CycleCentralIowa.com.
CARL VOSS of Des Moines is a lifelong bicyclist and an official of the Des Moines Bicycle Collective, a group of cyclists.