Local cyclists seek state OK for scenic route

Scott Swanson

Doug Robin and Donna Short have ridden the entire breadth of the United States and many shorter routes.

But the two Sweet Home residents consider the local terrain is among the best they’ve experienced and they want others to share that.

“We have exceptional bike riding roads in Linn County,” said Robin, a retired state wildlife biologist. “We’re blessed with a progressive county that, fortunately, any time they get the opportunity to improve roads for bicycling, they do it.”

The couple, along with four other cyclists, with the backing of the Santiam Spokes cycling club in Lebanon, are finalizing a proposal to the state Parks and Recreation Department to designate Santiam-Calapooia Scenic Bikeway in east Linn County.

The Sweet Home City Council gave the idea its endorsement last week after a presentation from the organizers.

The proposed bikeway “would provide cyclists an opportunity to experience some of the best riding in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and east-central Willamette Valley,” the proposal states. An Oregon scenic bikeway is a signed bike route on existing paths and roads that provide access to “national, state or regional resources of superlative quality and scenic splendor,” their proposal states.

The 72.6-mile loop is essentially the one used by the Santiam Spokes bike club for its Strawberry Century ride in June, which has attracted more than 12,000 cyclists in 22 years. The loop includes the South Santiam and Calapooia rivers and surrounding countryside, stretching from Thompson’s Mills State Historic Site on the west end to Sunnyside County Park on the east. It would connect at two points with the north-south Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, which runs from St. Paul on the north end to Eugene at the south.

Committee members, who include Ken Bronson of Sweet Home, Roger Gaither of Scio, Bill Pintard of Albany and Rod Sell of Lebanon, have been visiting local city councils, asking for letters of support. They also need support from other jurisdictions that control local roads – ODOT, Linn County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Their goal is to get the proposal to the state by January. If it is accepted, the committee will produce a plan with specific “turn-by-turn directions and a list of amenities,” Robin said. The route will then be tested by riders to see if it fits the criteria, he said. If approved, it would be officially designated within two or three years.

He noted that there are a dozen established scenic bike routes in Oregon, with more in the pipeline.

“This is a timing issue,” he said. “We’re part of the East Linn County concept where we’re trying to introduce people to our part of the world.”

Bronson, an avid cyclist, said he came up with the idea of a local bikeway two years ago when he participated in a Ford Family Foundation leadership training seminar that required a group project. Though his group instead chose to improve the baseball fields at Hawthorne School, he said the bikeway was a popular alternative.

“When Doug came up with this, it just fit,” Bronson said. “It was the same thing I’d come up with.”

The three said western Oregon may lack the scenic vistas of the eastern part of the state, but Linn County in particular offers many amenities – camping facilities, restrooms – on the proposed route that are lacking in other areas where bikeways already exist.

“We’re a farming county, so wide roads are common,” Bronson said.

Short noted that the county already is in the process of developing a bike route up Quartzville Road on its own and the proposed scenic bikeway would intersect with that, giving cyclists other options at this end of the county.

The location of Sunnyside Park, at the east end of the loop, would provide a two-day biking and camping experience, they said.

“Sunnyside will be the east anchor,” Robin said.

Though some roads may not have bike lanes, that’s not a problem, they said.

“The idea is to take conditions the way they are,” Robin said.

According to their proposal, a 2012 Travel Oregon study estimated that travelers involved in bicycle-related activities in the state spent nearly $400 million, including $174.6 million on accommodations and food, $53.5 million on groceries, $71.5 million on motor fuel, $31.9 million on cycling event fees, $27.9 million on bicycle repairs, clothing and gear, and generated tax revenues of nearly $18 million.

Short said Brownsville City Manager Scott McDowell told her that bicyclists visiting the town via the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway often return with family and friends.

Robin said when they appeared before the Albany City Council in late August, a council member asked what negatives there were associated with the proposed bikeway.

“Honestly, we couldn’t think of any,” he said. “It’s a win for the cyclists. It’s a win for the community.”