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Scenic cyclists promote new route

Alex Phillips was skeptical as she headed to Washington County with five other members of the state’s Scenic Bikeway Committee.

“We were thinking it would be a lot of sprawl,” Phillips remembers. “We were just not expecting the wonderful community like Forest Grove and the beautiful farmlands and the views of the coast range.”

That’s the short explanation for why the proposed Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway is poised to become the 10th scenic bikeway in Oregon and the first in Washington County. The route, which winds along little-used, mostly flat roads from Rood Bridge Park in Hillsboro to the start of the Banks-Vernonia Trail in downtown Banks, has a few remaining hurdles before official designation, including a public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 15, in Forest Grove.

Oregon Parks and Recreation Department officials are holding the hearing, which begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Community Auditorium, 1915 Main St.

If the state’s previous scenic bikeways are any indication, this bikeway could bring new cycling tourists to Hillsboro, Forest Grove and Banks, the three cities directly touched by the 50-mile route.

“We have an information line that gets tons of calls (on the bikeways),” says Phillips, bicycle recreation coordinator for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. And while there are no hard statistics on how many people are drawn to the bikeways, Phillips says business owners have reported an increase in customers after a route opens.

Oregon’s scenic bikeways follow existing roads rather than creating new trails. The program started in 2005 with a Willamette Valley pilot project. The state’s eight other bikeways were all designated in 2011 and 2012.

Signs and maps

The biggest expense for the Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway would be signs and maps outlining the route, said Carolyn McCormick, president of the Washington County Visitors Association. State lottery funds would pay for the maps, she says, while Washington County’s transient-lodging tax would pay for the signs.

Elsewhere, Phillips says, supporters of other scenic bikeways have pushed local governments to make small changes, such as widening a section of shoulder on a roadway. Similar suggestions for the Tualatin Valley bikeway could pop up at Tuesday’s hearing, she says.

The trail was initially 14 miles longer, beginning at the Howard Terpenning Recreation Center in Beaverton and including North Plains. That was the Hike ‘n’ Bike route Bruce Buffington, president of the Northwest Bicycle Safety Council, put together in 2009 to help raise funds for the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District Foundation.

When Phillips stumbled across Buffington’s brochures for the fundraiser, she told him about the state’s scenic bikeway program and suggested he submit the route for review.

More than 1,000 potential bikeway miles have been proposed to the state’s 11-member Scenic Bikeway Committee, which has rejected about half of them, Phillips said.

Buffington contacted local stakeholders and the Washington County Visitors Association, which formed a Scenic Bikeway Committee in 2010 to coordinate the application effort and submit the official proposal in March 2011.

A few months later, the route faced its toughest test: a run-through by members of the state’s Scenic Bikeway Committee, which rides and rates every proposed bikeway.

“We weren’t expecting much,” Phillips says. “When we got there we fell in love with the area.”

Committee members suggested lopping off the North Plains and Beaverton sections due to heavy traffic, narrow shoulders or lack of scenic beauty.

Now the proposal is in its public meeting phase, including the Jan. 15 meeting and a free, all-day workshop Feb. 5 in Forest Grove to help business owners understand the importance of cycle tourism and how to take advantage of it.

Phillips says proponents hope a completed bikeway management plan can be approved and the route officially designated by May. “Just in time for the summer riding season.”

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