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Editorial: Franklin Co. creating more activities with cyclists in mind


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

In recent years, bicycling has grown as a healthy form of outdoor recreation particularly well suited to Franklin County. And now is the time to capitalize on that popularity to grow our local tourism industry.

We are thrilled to see that Franklin Regional Council of Governments has begun studying just how to do that.

The Franklin County Bikeway already extends as much as 240 miles, with signs, maps and other components showing the way. Now, with $35,000 in state funding, regional planners intend 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.

Already, the county hosts popular day-long riding events that attract hundreds of recreational tourists from Boston, New York and beyond.

D2R2 — the Franklin Land Trust’s annual Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnée benefit — attracts 1,300 to 1,600 riders from around the country. 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 in warm months.

And there’s room to grow this form of tourism, if those who live along those country roads can tolerate more two-wheelers whizzing through their neighborhoods and villages.

Franklin County Chamber of Commerce President Ann Hamilton, who has promoted tourism here for decades, says 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 after a meeting with an advisory group in April she was inspired by how much potential there is, especially after looking at successful “bicycle-friendly business practices” like offering parking and welcoming cyclists laden with packs, for example.

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.”

While bicycle tourists are likely to bring their own bikes, Alden Booth, another avid cyclist involved in county bicycling events, and Briere say cycling’s impact can be greater than from other kinds of tourism because cyclists travel much more slowly and may stop at convenience stores, restaurants and cafes.

Briere says the pace of cycling tourists and their impact on the area is “of a local scale, lingering instead of passing through.”

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

The cycling tourism planning will result in mapping popular and themed routes for different types of cyclists 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.

The county, with its whitewater river has already become a destination for a growing number of rafting enthusiasts. Bicycling, it seems, can appeal more broadly and become an even more significant part of our tourism industry and income.