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Bikeways in the Country

Portland and Eugene are nationally ranked as cycle-friendly towns, but there is more to boast about than the many urban bike lanes. Oregon is the only state in the nation with designated scenic bikeways. The two most recent additions start in Cottage Grove and Bend, bringing the state total to eight.

“We’re only looking for the best of the best bike rides in all of Oregon and these two made that cut,” says Alexandra Phillips, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department bicycle recreation coordinator. 

The bikeways selections are decided upon after local proponents submit the routes to an OPRD committee, which chooses based on scenic beauty and road conditions. 

Phillips has been part of developing the scenic bikeways from the beginning and says the idea initially came from Cycle Oregon. Members of the state’s annual summer ride noticed long bike paths through the countryside in Europe and suggested to the OPRD that Oregon follow suit. 

Cottage Grove’s Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway is an off-road paved path for the first 17 miles and ends up back through Main Street. It also directs cyclists through a swinging bridge and covered railroad bridge. The Twin Bridges Loop Scenic Bikeway, which begins in Bend, crosses the Deschutes twice and presents views of the Cascades for cyclists during most of the route.

The recent additions and the rest of Oregon’s scenic bikeways could potentially contribute to an increase in bicycle transportation in areas like Cottage Grove. The non-profit organization, Rails to Trails, recently released a research report that found that rural, less dense areas use bicycles for transportation at similar rates as higher-populated cities. The non-profit organization looked at data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2009 National Household Travel Survey and found that in some categories rural areas even topped urban rates of total trips on bicycles. 

Phillips acknowledges some instances where she’s met people using the bikeways for transportation. One cyclist told her the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway was way to commute to work; the route goes through Salem and Ankeny Wildlife Refuge. Another cyclist told Phillips about using the route for a two-day business trip.

But the majority of use on the bikeways will more likely be cyclists hoping to find a picturesque mountaintop behind a clump of pine trees or a tiny pond teeming with wildlife. 

In partnership with Travel Oregon, OPRD is hoping to promote these routes throughout the country and world. The idea being that the tourism will help economic development in small Oregon towns the bikeways go through.

“If all goes as planned they should be seeing more cycle tourists coming into Cottage Grove to enjoy the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway,” Phillips says.