County wants to become cycling haven

POLK COUNTY — Bike MS has made its home at Western Oregon University for multiple years.

It wasn’t always like that. In past years, the event moved locations.

“I know prior we had been near Hood River,” Augi Garred, Bike MS vice president of marketing and events, said. “It went on a scenic route, but it was so difficult. There were so many people who wanted to come out and ride but didn’t feel comfortable riding that long or taking on that big of hills.”

The Willamette Valley was an attractive alternative.

“It’s really peaceful,” Garred said. “There’s not a lot of traffic. We have seven routes over the weekend from an 18-mile, flat-as-a-pancake ride to Dallas to a 100-mile ride to Silver Falls. There’s variety from flat to hilly. The landscape allows people who aren’t as advanced riders to join.”

The factors that made the Willamette Valley such an appealing spot for Bike MS is something the county is looking to capitalize on, turning Polk County into a biking haven.

Independence and Monmouth have taken steps to become a more appealing cycling destination.

Independence installed two bike repair stations earlier this year.

One is located near the fountain at Riverview Park, with the second at a campground near the river.

“It has a rack you can sit your bike on so it’s off the ground,” Independence Economic Development Director Shawn Irvine said. “All the different tools you need to work on a bike are attached by cables, including wrenches, tire changing tools — all that kind of stuff.”

The campground gives cyclists a place to stay overnight.

“We’ve been wanting to appeal more to the cycling community,” Irvine said. “We see bicycle tourism as a good economic opportunity for us. We wanted to do some things to bring more bicycles to Independence. That’s where the bike campground came from.”

Monmouth created a bike-pedestrian committee to look at a variety of potential projects, including installing bike repair stations and increasing signage.

“I think the area provides great rural views for cyclists with a range of routes and topography for all skill levels, all of which is located within an hour or so of major urban centers in the Willamette Valley,” Monmouth Community Development Director Mark Fancey said. “In addition, Polk County has done a good job with local road paving.”

Monmouth, Independence and the Dallas Area Visitor’s Center matched a $10,000 grant provided by the Rural Tourism Studio to create tourism promotion items, including a cycling video and photos, Fancey said.

The cycling video is filming this week and will be ready for viewing later this summer.

Dallas Recreation Coordinator David Brautigam said the city is trying to organize a cycling group to meet regularly. The Polk Pedalers, a group that holds monthly rides throughout the year, also meets for a variety of rides that take them around the county.

The effort has not been lost on cycling groups, including Bike MS and Cycle Oregon.

“We’ve always thought the area was bike friendly,” Garred said.

The goal now is to showcase the county as a cycling destination — and attract cyclists from around the state.

“It’s something we’re always thinking about,” Irvine said.

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