WELCHES – The slopes south and west of Mount Hood could become Oregon’s next great bike tourism destination, Clackamas County leaders said Saturday at a half-day conference here in the old volcano’s foothills.
“We are tourism-driven,” said George Wilson, a director of the Villages at Mount Hood and the organizer of the event. “It’s our only industry.”
It’s also an industry that currently booms each summer and winter and slackens during the “shoulder seasons,” as fall and spring are sometimes called in the Mount Hood area.
numbers and decided that biking is among Clackamas
County’s most promising sources of new tourism.
(Photos by M.Andersen/BikePortland)
“That’s the nice thing about biking,” said Jae Heidenreich, development lead for Clackamas County’s tourism office. “It really is three seasons of the year rather than just one season of the year.”
Actually, the growing popularity of fat bikes mean that they could be a four-season activity, said Nathan Jones, owner of Portland bike shop Ride Yr Bike. Jones rode the bus to Saturday’s meeting to push the idea.
(“They’re so fun,” a state tourism promoter in the audience whispered to the man beside her, a lanky Clackamas County transportation official. “I want one so bad,” he replied.)
With that multi-season strategy in mind — and their eyes on the recent success of Hood River and Oregon City at developing lucrative reputations in the world of bike tourism — the state, county and local governments here, 45 miles southeast of Portland and about 1,000 feet up, are focusing their resources on their share of an estimated $400 million in statewide bike tourism revenue.
The county is installing “share the road” signs along bike routes like Barlow Trail, Marmot Road and Lolo Pass Road. The county’s tourism office awarded five of 10 recent grants to “bikey” projects, Heidenreich noted, and it’s begun offering free trainings to retail staffers in the area on what to tell people who might ask them where the good bike destinations are nearby.
“They may only be coming up here for a ride on the Sandy Ridge trail, but if they knew there was a ride on the Skyline Ridge Road the following day or they knew there was a great restaurant along the way, maybe they stay,” Heidenreich said.
Mike Bezner, the county’s transportation engineering manager, said Saturday that the county is working hard to make its roads safer for all users.
“We actually have a goal of reducing fatalities and serious crashes in Clackamas County by 50 percent over the next 10 years,” Bezner said. “It’s ambitious, but we are serious about it.”
The new focus on bike tourism comes as talk is growing in Clackamas County that the area seems to be in the midst of a major demographic shift.
“Early in the 90s, we had a lot of young people and families,” said Marci Slater, another director of The Villages, which is the quasi-city government for the Welches area. “Now we’re becoming a retirement community. So we have more pedestrians on the roads, more bicycles on the roads.”
Even bus traffic has been rising. As we shared earlier this month, the newly expanded Mount Hood Express now runs 363 days a year, five to seven times per day, between Sandy and Timberline Lodge with nine stops between. The area’s hope is to create, among other things, a perfect way to quickly and cheaply get bikers and skiers up the mountain.
“We’re becoming a retirement community. So we have more pedestrians on the roads, more bicycles on the roads.”
— Marci Slater, The Villages at Mount Hood
With $2 fares each direction, it’s one of the fastest-growing transit services in the state, administrator Teresa Christopherson said Saturday.
Staj Pace, a destination development specialist for Travel Oregon, made a pitch Saturday for the new program, piloted in nearby Estacada and launching statewide Tuesday, that will create a free “bike-friendly business” network that gives shops credit for amenities like indoor bike storage or on-site bike maps.
“Thirty-one percent of all leisure visitors to Oregon rode a bike at some point during their stay,” Pace said.
Stay tuned for more details on the bike-friendly business program later this week.
Wilson, a resident of the area for 14 years, said his new advocacy group, the Mt. Hood Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition, will focus on improving the trails and on-street routes for biking.
His dream, he said, is for the Mount Hood area to grab a share of all the traffic that speeds past on U.S. Route 26 en route to places further away.
“Those travelers have decided where they’re going to go before they leave their home,” he said. “They’re going to Bend, Hood River. … The money that’s out there now, $400 million for the state of Oregon – we’ve got to tap into that.”
Correction 1/26: An earlier version of this post misquoted Pace’s statistic about bike use by Oregon visitors.