Bicycle Tourism is a good source of income for Montana- the case for a great community trail system- by Tom Howard

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Lynn Harper, volunteer coordinator and volunteer Tom Howard represented Billings TrailNet at the Bike Walk Summit. They learned how bicycle tourism can benefit a community’s economy.

The 100 or so attendees learned how bicycle tourists are providing a valuable source of income to rural Montana communities. Lois Volkening, commander of the American Legion Post 20 in Dillon, said that bicycle tourists have provided a major economic boost to Wisdom, where she helps run the American Legion Memorial Park and Campground. In the same presentation, Lydia Janosko, of the Anaconda Local Development Corp., also discussed that community’s successful efforts to cater to bicycle tourists. The Anaconda Adventure Camp provides camping spaces, lockers and restrooms.

Some local residents have been skeptical of efforts to cater to cyclists, fearing an increase in vandalism. But Janosko said those fears have proven to be unfounded.

“These people are magnificent,” Janosko said, referring to bike tourists. “They leave places better than they found them. If we don’t embrace them,we are missing out for our community.”

Pat Doyle, a representative of Montana State Parks, said a network of bicycle campsites in state parks has been a big success. The state has developed bicycle and pedestrian campsites at four state parks: Whitefish Lake, Flathead Lake Wayfarers State Park, Placid Lake and Seeley Lake.

“Bicycle tourism provides a real economic benefit. Cyclists stay longer and spend more. It provides a big boost to local economies,” Doyle said.

When asked about the popularity of the cycling-oriented campsites, Doyle said: “They’re packed.”

Attendees urged the state to expand the network of bike campsites to other state parks, possibly even developing bike camping at state rest stops.

Officials from Montana State University have traveled to Europe in recent years to study bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany. Copenhagen and Amsterdam, famous for their cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, were once plagued by automotive congestion. Beginning in the 1980s, transportation planners and lawmakers made a concerted effort to emphasize cycling and pedestrian travel.

Candace Mastel, Rebecca Gleason and Cathy Costakis showed photos featuring massive bike parking lots and bridges that are restricted to pedestrian and cycling travel. For residents of Copenhagen and Amsterdam, cycling, walking and mass transit are a natural and intuitive way to travel. People in Copenhagen often describe cycling as a “lazy” way to get around, and they like it that way.

Dorian Grilley with the Minnesota Coalition of Bicyclists, said the League of American Cyclists recognizes Minnesota as the nation’s second most bicycle friendly state, with 21 bicycle-friendly communities, 62 bicycle-friendly businesses and five bicycle-friendly universities. By comparison, Montana ranks 45th in bicycle friendliness. The Big Sky State has four bicycle-friendly communities — Helena, Billings, Bozeman and Missoula. The state also has five bicycle-friendly businesses and one bicycle-friendly university.

Billings can boast of 45 miles of trails and more than 1,000 members of Billings TrailNet. Other larger communities have made significant improvements in trail development.

Norma Nickerson and Jeremy Sage of the Institution for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana, presented research that shows Helena’s extensive mountain bike trail system provides a significant economic boost to the community.

But even small communities have accomplished a great deal in trail development. Gene Townsend of Three Forks said his community’s 10-mile trail system gets heavy use from local residents and out-of-town visitors as well. Towsend, a board member of Bike Walk Montana, started working on the Three Forks trail system in 1997 while he was mayor. The system extends from the Jefferson River at the Droillard Fishing Access to Headwaters State Park. Gene hopes to connect Three Forks trails with other communities in the area.