NEBRASKA CITY – Nebraska’s small, rural communities can bicycle their way to prosperity.
That was the message at a Nebraska Tourism conference breakout, where the Cowboy Trail from Norfolk to Valentine and “gravel grinding” routes around Lincoln were visioned at the intersection of biking and tourism.
Ginny Sullivan of Adventure Cycling said bicycle tourism is a real industry.
Sullivan: “It puts heads in beds. People can use bicycle tourism as a way to grow their economies in small, rural towns across Nebraska.”
The national Rails to Trails Conservancy committed to the Great American Rail Trail in 2017 and current plans show the route from Washington, D.C., to Washington state to include Iowa into Omaha. The route would use the 219-mile Cowboy Trail to reach Wyoming.
The Steamboat Trace at Nebraska City held its first bike ride event this fall and the Nebraska Department of Roads has recently approved a bridge expansion that will allow a bike path between Bellevue and Plattsmouth.
To grow the biking economy, Sullivan encourages hotels to provide bike wash stations and allow people to roll bikes into their rooms. She said tourism directors can put together itineraries for multi-day rides.
Sullivan: “It’s really thinking regionally about how cyclists are moving between areas, so, bringing your neighboring communities on board with this idea and talking about it in a positive light can really help build your whole area up and bring people in, whether it be for a gravel ride or something else.”
Bicycling advocate Julie Harris encouraged people to make biking safer and more accessible with bicycle safe city streets.
Sullivan said bicycle tourist are known to spend from $100 to $150 a day on food and accommodations. Sullivan: “They stay longer in a region, they travel slower , they eat a lot, they go to bed early, they wake up early, if you can attract them to stay and extra day you’re doubling your impact. They like local businesses. Yes, bicycle tourism, we know this to be true, we have all sorts of studies on the website to showcase these things, case studies, and we know it works and I can’t wait to work with communities across Nebraska to show them that. “
Bike trail and event success stories were shared at the break-out session.
Ovando, Mt., had only a tiny hotel with four rooms, so they established a teepee and covered wagon, which resulted in bike camp.
There is a no-pay hostel in Mitchel, Ore., and Dirty Kanza draws 3,000 riders a year. 450 people take the five-day Tour de Nebraska.
Alex Duryea, trails coordinator for Nebraska Game and Parks, said a camp host at a state recreation area near Kearney is trying free bicycle rentals.
Kevin Belanger of the Rails to Trails Conservancy said many have adopted the idea that abandoned rail corridors can be America’s new main street.
US Bike Route 40 and US Bike Route 50 use GPS to keep cyclists on the route. National corridor plans cross America in northern Kansas, but the recently approved Great American Rail Trail would go from Omaha to Valentine before reaching Wyoming.