Opportunity and ingredients for cycling success in The Dalles

The Dalles - Day One-32

A new bike shop coming to downtown The Dalles.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Ever since a reporting trip to Washington D.C. a few years ago, I’ve begun using a soup analogy to assess a city’s bike-friendliness. A good bowl of soup, like a successful cycling city, requires many different ingredients, and just as importantly, the right people to blend them together. In D.C., after spending a few days cycling on their impressive protected bike lanes, my impression was that they had added many excellent ingredients to the soup, but the taste wasn’t quite right. It was like an inexperienced chef who knew where to buy the good ingredients, and was able to plop them in the pot — but wasn’t yet skilled enough at blending them all together into a tasty final product.

Here in The Dalles, to continue the soup analogy, the kitchen is full of chefs excitedly prepping ingredients, and there’s a lot of buzz about what they’ll create; but the pot isn’t even boiling yet.

I’ve met with several civic leaders in the past two days and I’ve gotten a very strong sense that it’s not a question of if, but when cycling will become a well-entrenched part of this city’s civic — and economic — identity.

The Dalles has had their share of economic turmoil in the past several decades. From the closure of their main employer (an aluminum plant) in the 1980s, its re-opening and then final closure in 2000, and then the recession. But for the most part, things are going pretty well in this town of about 14,000 people. But even with some positive economic signs, The Dalles isn’t out of the woods yet. They still lack a strong identity and economic engine that will power a real revitalization.

The Dalles - Day One-25

Lisa Farquharson, president and CEO of The Dalles Chamber of Commerce

Yesterday I met Lisa Farquharson, president and CEO of The Dalles Chamber of Commerce. “The Dalles is still trying to fine our niche,” she shared as we toured the City in her SUV. “How can we pull people in? If we can do it with cycling, we’ll do that.”

Farquharson is just one part of a growing network of civic leaders here that are taking cycling seriously. Across the hallway from her office in the small building that houses The Dalles Chamber and Visitor’s Center sits Matthew Klebes. Klebes is the main street coordinator for The Dalles Main Street Program, an independent non-profit working to spur economic activity in the downtown district.

The Dalles Day Two-3

Matthew Klebes, The Dalles Main Street.
The Dalles Day Two-1

“Want the growing number of cyclists visiting The Dalles to know you value their business?”

Next month, Klebes’ group will host a series of workshops to help local businesses become officially certified through Travel Oregon’s new Bike Friendly Business program. The Dalles is the first city in Oregon to embrace this idea and host its own workshops, a fact Klebes is quite proud of. “We want to have a discussion about how powerful this can be and how businesses can adapt to accomodate bicycles,” he said. Three businesses have already signed up for the program — a tea parlor, a fitness gym, and a paper/scrapbooking store.

Klebes is also working on a grant that would pay for about a dozen new bike racks downtown. Currently, The Dalles’ main streets are woefully bereft of bike racks, so hopefully a dozen is just the start. If all goes according to plan, the new racks will go in in May, along with The Dalles’ very first parklet, slated to go on E 2nd Street in front of a bakery and a music shop (see mock-up drawing below). There’s also talk of creating a designated park-n-ride location for day-trippers to park their cars while they’re out riding.

When it comes to making The Dalles more bike-friendly, Klebes says, “There’s been a buzz around town.” He points to the official “task squad” of volunteers that has stepped up to organize this month’s bike friendly business certification workshops.

The Dalles Day Two-2

Drawing of The Dalles very first parklet.

The urgency around bicycling here comes from a variety of factors. It helps that their Mayor Steve Lawrence is a big believer in the power of bicycles. Another reason is the impending arrival of Cycle Oregon in September. That annual ride, which brings with it a traveling city of 2,500 bike lovers with plenty of spending money, has chosen The Dalles as the base camp for the start and end of their 2014 event. The other thing everyone here is talking about is the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. Currently complete from Troutdale to Cascade Locks, and from Hood River to Mosier, the Oregon Department of Transportation has just nine miles remaining to complete the project.

Once the HCRH is done (hopefully by the road’s 100-year anniversary in 2016), The Dalles will find itself at the start and end of one of the premier bicycling routes in country. Add in their existing cycling assets — the six-mile Riverfront Trail, some of the best road riding anywhere — and you begin see how many of the ingredients for success are starting to come together.

With so many things clicking for cycling in The Dalles right now, the business community hears opportunity knocking. And Klebes says it’s an opportunity many locals don’t want to pass up. Not this time. Klebes told me many people here feel like they passed up on an opportunity to embrace kiteboarding several years ago. That reluctance led the booming sport, and all of its associated economic impacts, to choose Hood River as its preferred home instead of The Dalles.

“Many people here see what happened with kiteboarding as a missed opportunity, and they see bikes as a second chance.”

— Stay tuned for more reporting from The Dalles. View more photos in the gallery.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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AndyC of Linnton
AndyC of Linnton
10 years ago

Great to hear.
Let’s hope that once they get that soup ready, they don’t fail in serving it like Portland does.
Portland hired all the best chefs, have the best ingredients, and by the enticing the aroma in the restaurant, you can tell that soup is the fabulous.
Unfortunately, when the waiter serves it to you he only gives you a fork and knife, and decants it on to a plate.

Doug Rosser
Doug Rosser
10 years ago

I was riding on the Historic CRHWY out to Cascade Locks just last Monday. A truly great ride, and having it extend all the way to The Dalles would be incredible. A two-day out and back would be such fun!

10 years ago

Kiting is no good in the dalles is my thinking- the river bends there – people drive much farther to Rufus and the windsurfers stop at Rowena
What’s up with the mtb- they had an event planned last year that was cancelled – eagle caves?
Maybe they should have a bike parade for the kickoff of cycle Oregon ?

10 years ago
Reply to  Spliffy

That’s true. Rowena to Doug’s, just west of TD, and then Rufus east, but the riverfront in TD doesn’t have safe launch spots or clean wind. Bicycling, OTOH, is great there (and so is the Thai food at Montira’s)!

Glad to see you discovering and writing about it Jonathan, thanks!

Russell Roca
10 years ago

This is awesome. Honestly, have always wanted to go to The Dalles to ride. The only barrier for me is that I fall under the car free Millennial category and would like to get there via a bike friendly bus and not have to rent a car. I know there is a line that goes from PDX to the The Dalles, but there is nothing on their site about taking a bus.

I hope the chamber and workshops include encouraging the regional bus that goes from Portland (that has a lot of cyclists) to The Dalles (that is interested in attracting cyclists) to be more bike friendly. It would make a great mini vacation!

10 years ago
Reply to  Russell Roca

You’ve hit on something lacking in the area in general. There are shuttles to/from Portland on Tuesdays and Thursdays (http://www.gorgetranslink.com/regional-thedalles-hoodriver-portland.html), and Columbia Area Transit within the area (http://www.gorgetranslink.com/regional-hoodriver-thedalles.html). There’s a Facebook page for ride-sharing (many kiters/windsurfers); I don’t have FB or I’d post it. In 2001 I looked into a PDX shuttle business from Hood River but a combination of competition (another shuttle service started; since disappeared) and 9/11 happened (the following summer was dismal for tourism).

I’ll bookmark your site and may be able to give you a lift and/or host you out there sometime. Also check out my friend’s operation: http://www.cyclegreateryellowstone.com

10 years ago
Reply to  Pete

Wow! I didn’t realize that there was a bus between Portland and Hood River/The Dalles! That’s helpful to know. Though the big issue is it only runs twice-weekly for a schedule more suited to commuting than going out into the Gorge for fun. This is an issue with a lot of transit agencies, though I can’t fault them too much for that. It just would be nice if there was daily service. Getting out to The Dalles on Thursday night and returning to Portland on Tuesday morn would make for a loooong weekend, longer than many can afford to take.

And it does look like you can take bikes. Unfortunately they don’t say it on the bus schedule page, but it’s on the “Facts” right sidebar on the cyclist resources page:

I really wish that Amtrak’s Empire Builder (the line that travels through the Gorge) had roll on bike service, since there are two stops in the Gorge (Bingen and Wishram) and neither have checked baggage service. I would really love it if they reinstated the Pioneer line which would mean reopening the stations at Hood River and The Dalles. But that doesn’t seem likely anytime soon, until there is strong political will to do it.

Scott Turnoy
10 years ago

Great to hear that folks are making use of http://www.gorgetranslink.com. I wanted to confirm that Columbia Area Transit (CAT) buses are indeed equipped with bike racks for their weekday route between Hood River –> The Dalles and their Tuesday/Thursday route between The Dalles, Hood River, and Portland.

For those interested in taking a bike across the Hood River Bridge between Hood River and White Salmon/Bingen, an option is the Mt. Adams Transportation bus route, which runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Find the schedule at http://www.gorgetranslink.com/transit-klickitat.html

Also, from May 1st to October 15th, the Skamania County Public Transit service “Gorge West End Transit” will operate weekend bus service between Vancouver, WA and several locations along SR-14 in the Gorge. Four times a day on Saturdays and Sundays the bus will serve locations such as Fisher’s Landing, North Bonneville, Bonneville Dam, Beacon Rock, the PCT, Stevenson, Carson, Dog Mountain Trailhead and more. The full bus schedule will be posted to http://www.gorgetranslink.com once it is available.

Thanks for highlighting the efforts at work to provide transportation options to the Mid-Columbia Gorge area and the related economic development benefits.