Exploring and Supporting Rural Communities Through Cycling: Part 1

This is a Part 1 of a two-part series that explores the positive impact that cycling can have on rural communities.

Getting to know the eastern Oregon landscape and communities.

In 2012, Travel Oregon Commission conducted a study to learn about the economic impact of cycling throughout the state. The results were an astounding. Travelers who participated in bicycle-related activities while traveling in Oregon spent nearly $400 million in 2012. $63.3 million of that was spent through “organized non-competitive group rides” or “organized group tours.”

This concept is hard to fully understand. Do cyclists and the cycle touring industry really spend money? Do they really have an impact on local economies? Cycling is not necessarily “flashy” or extravagant, like some other tourist activities, so how does it impact smaller communities in rural areas?

I was fortunate to have a first hand experience by joining Bicycle Rides Northwest on their 2014 Oregon Ride. Bicycle Rides Northwest is a small tour company that organizes two weeklong rides a year – one in Oregon and one elsewhere in the Northwest. This ride, billed as a “Journey Through Time” took us on the quiet back roads of eastern Oregon, through winding river drainages, expansive cattle ranches, historic ghost towns, geologic wonderlands and small, friendly, rural Oregon communities.

Our pedaling off point was the tiny town of Spray, Oregon, population 160. Bringing 180 cyclists and 40 crew workers to such a small town can definitely have a huge imapact, and Spray was fully ready for us. My first stop was the Spray Pioneer Museum and luckily for me and the other hungry cyclists, they were hosting a bake sale. The museum volunteers were so excited to see us and talked proudly about the museum, which was full of ancient photos, furniture, ranch tools and artifacts that are now obsolete.

Our first day’s ride, the 70+ mile Twickenham Loop took us through an ever changing landscape of huge ranches, deep basalt canyons and green river valleys. It was a hot day, with an even hotter wind. The riding was grueling, but it was easy to be distracted by the sublime scenery and solitude.

The second day took us from Spray to Heppner with a brief stop in Hardman, a ghost town with a population of 25. The main building in “town” is the Hardman Community Center, a gathering place for the community and a museum of sorts. Hardman resident Sylvia staffed the Community Center and answered questions about the history of the area. She informed me that they are planning to renovate the kitchen, which has been literally separating from the 144-year-old building, to create a coffee shop and bakery. If you build it, will the cyclists come? Most cyclists I know have a strong affinity for coffee and pastries, but only time will tell.

As I rolled into Heppner, the first thing I noticed was the country music playing on every street corner. Although this is a strong farming and ranching community, they are working diligently to bring cycling to the area. Rightly so, since it is the gateway to the Blue Mountain Century Scenic Bikeway. In 2013, Heppner and surrounding communities established the Annual Blue Mountain Scenic Bikeway Ride to help spread the cycling love in the region.

After only two days of cycling in this area, it was evident these communities warmly welcomed cyclists.

Stay tuned for Part 2 – The Story of Prairie City.

What do you think?

Do you ride through rural communities? What has your experience been?

Katy Bryce is a writer based in Bend, Oregon. She specializes in travel, outdoors, the environment and sustainability. Read more at KatyBryce.com

Bicycle Rides Northwest is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide fully supported scenic bicycling adventures to discover the beauty of the Northwest and the heart and soul of it’s communities.

10 thoughts on “Exploring and Supporting Rural Communities Through Cycling: Part 1”

  1. I rode a lot of Eastern Oregon last summer and I have to say it was very pleasant. I agree that people were friendly and supportive. This is my new favorite part of the state to ride. Just beware: nights can be COLD depending on where you are and when you are there.

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