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Bike route would go from Crooked River Park to Big Ben Campground near Prineville Reservoir

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN
 - Cycling has grown in popularity in Crook County in recent years. A scenic bikeway designation along the Crooked River will help draw even more cyclists to the county.

Local leaders have cleared several hurdles in recent months and seem poised to launch a scenic bikeway in Crook County toward the beginning of next year.

Casey Kaiser, a member of the scenic bikeway's steering committee and director of the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce, said a public meeting was held this spring with Travel Oregon and Alex Phillips, a representative from Oregon State Parks and Recreation.

"At that point, we had a draft of the scenic bikeway plan in place," he said, "so the purpose of that public meeting was for the public to be able to review the draft of the plan and provide any input."

The steering committee took that input and used it to make revisions to the plan, and soon they will submit a final plan to the Oregon Scenic Bikeway Committee. Another public meeting is likely to be scheduled in September.

"Then, the Scenic Bikeway Committee will convene in September, and they will make a decision by early in October on whether we receive the designation," Kaiser said.

The idea for a scenic bikeway in Prineville went public in early 2015 when Crook County Commissioner Seth Crawford and Greg Curry, with the Prineville BLM District, approached local leaders about the special state designation.

The proposed route would begin at Crooked River Park on South Main Street and follow the Highway 27 about 19 miles to Big Ben Campground near Prineville Reservoir. Crawford and Curry stressed that if Oregon State Parks officially designates it as a scenic bikeway, the community would reap benefits in the form of advertising through Travel Oregon and other sources outside the Crook County area.

More recently, steering committee member James Good, who owns Prineville-based Good Bike Co., pointed out some other benefits to the designation.

"There are some infrastructure update opportunities and then a bunch of other grant opportunities as well," he said.

Good noted that upgrades might include the paving of aprons at campgrounds along the highway or additional signage for the bikeway.

Underscoring the value in adding more cycling tourism, Kaiser noted that the average cyclist spends about $280 per day in a community.

"Cyclists' average daily spending is high in relationship to other types of visitors," he said, "so they are a pretty high economic impact visitor."

If the bikeway designation comes to fruition, it is expected to further heighten what appears to be a growing interest in cycling in the Crook County area. Good points out that Prineville is "at the crosshairs of the Trans American Bike Trail, which goes coast to coast, and the Oregon Outback, which goes north to south through Oregon."

"In the last three years of the bike shop being open, I have seen drastic changes in the amount of cyclists out and about," Good added.

Kaiser agreed, noting that the area features several attributes attractive to cyclists, like large amounts of public land, and a large network of well-maintained, low-traffic roads.

Crawford, who also serves on the steering committee, said the scenic bikeway effort is "a great example of government, business and non-government agencies working together to improve tourism and the economy of Crook County."

He pointed out that multiple agencies have participated in the more than two-year process, including the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce, City of Prineville and Crook County. Crawford made special mention of Curry, whom he said has been pivotal in moving the effort forward.

And at this point, all signs point to the bikeway receiving its designation by this coming October.

"I don't really think there is anything that can hold it up at this point," Good stated.

Assuming that happens, the committee would have until the following spring to prepare for launch of the bikeway.

"We are excited that we have come this far," Crawford said, "and we are closer to getting it done every day."

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