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What happens if Franklin County grows bicycle tourism?

  • Members of the Bike Club at Four Rivers Charter School cruise down the center of a tree lined Smith Street in Greenfield in 2013. RECORDER FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Joanne Coutu and Paul Skiathitis ride bikes through Gill in 2010. RECORDER FILE PHOTO



Recorder Staff
Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Now that it has developed a Franklin County Bikeway extending as much as 240 miles, with signs, maps and other components, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments is trying to pump up the region’s economy with bicycle tourism.

With $35,000 in state transportation funding, planners are looking to hire a consultant to show what the economic impact of cycling is now and could be for Franklin County tourism. The consultant would work with organizations and cycle-related businesses on ways to build and promote cycling tourism here.

Many believe it’s already rolling.

“You have a tremendous amount of different rides that are done locally,” said Chris Ethier of Bicycle World in Greenfield. D2R2 — the Franklin Land Trust’s annual Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnée benefit — attracts 1,300 to 1,600 riders from around the country, he says. Pedal to Pints rides connecting breweries around the Pioneer Valley typically sell out at 75 riders and there are well over half a dozen locally organized rides around the county each week.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” he said. “There’s been no real inventory of what’s available.”

Franklin County Chamber of Commerce President Ann Hamilton added, “I think it’s a niche we can fill.”

Franklin County Senior Transportation Planner Beth Giannini, who is heading the effort to develop a bicycle tourism plan over the next 12 months, says she was inspired after a meeting with the ad hoc advisory group in April how much potential there is, especially after looking at successful “bicycle-friendly business practices” by offering parking and welcoming cyclists laden with packs, for example. “It’s important to know this is really a legitimate part of the tourist economy,” Giannini said.

Gary Briere, whose River’s Edge Cycling in Sunderland organizes cycling tours around the country, says, “The potential, I think, is really amazing. This area boasts some of the best bicycling in America. The scale is very bikeable. The roads really work. Out West, there are dramatic landscapes where you can see forever and it’s very beautiful, but there’s no real sense of surprise there. You don’t have the sense of flow that we have here, with small roads, chance byways and hilltowns. It’s an underappreciated asset, and I’m glad to see the COG and the chamber of commerce recognize that.”

Ethier and Bicycles Unlimited owner Bob Perry note that cyclists visiting the region for flat rides, hilly rides and touring on roads usually bring their own bicycles and may spend money on repairs or small items but not necessarily on big-ticket items to sustain bike shops.

Bike rentals are one way that businesses could capitalize on a well-marketed tourism sector, said Perry, “But you couldn’t build a business plan around that,” and such a business would have to be sited directly on a major route.

And reconstruction of Northfield’s Schell Bridge to connect Southern Vermont cycling routes to those in the Pioneer Valley and around Franklin County also offers potential, suggested Alden Booth, another avid cyclist involved in county bicycling events.

Briere says cycling’s impact can be greater than from other kinds of tourism.

“Cyclists travel much more slowly and may stop every 20 minutes at convenience stores, restaurants and cafes,” he said. “The pace of cycling tourists and the individual’s impact on the area is on a local scale, lingering instead of passing through.”

With its agricultural terrain, appealing villages and scenery along river roads and hilly terrain, Briere said, “We’re uniquely positioned” to promote “an amazing, scenic landscape that’s ideal for cycling.”

The cycling tourism planning effort, according to Giannini, will also include creating an inventory of the region’s assets and strengths, mapping popular and themed routes for different types of cyclists, working to help communities and the tourism industry appreciate the importance of bicycling tourism as well as developing branding, social media and special events geared toward area residents and tourists.

“There’s probably not a lot of stuff missing; just promotional stuff,” guessed Booth, who owns the People’s Pint brew pub in Greenfield, and noted that businesses like his are helped by cyclists who regularly come through the area.

“When there are these events and rides in the area, we’re packed,” he said.

Although there are probably ways to create more public awareness about cycling for families and less-than-ardent enthusiasts, especially for people who fear it’s simply too hilly or that roads are dangerous, Booth added, “The choices here are so nice. And we’re so close to Boston and New York and even compared to Connecticut, it’s a lot more interesting. I think it’s already taken off more than we realize.”

You can reach Richie Davis at
rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 269