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Anita Metlen, left, and Tina Seavert ride through Pyles Canyon, on the proposed Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway, in October, 2010. DICK MASON / The Observer
State likely to give green light to proposed scenic cycling route
A red-letter date in Northeast Oregon bicycling history may be just a month away.
The State Parks Commission will vote at its April 4 meeting in Medford on whether to grant final approval for the creation of the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway, a 134-mile signed route that would start and end at Riverside Park.
“Judging by what has been submitted to the commission so far I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be approved,’’ said Alex Phillips, bicycle recreation coordinator for the State Parks and Recreation Department.
Phillips helped conduct an Oregon State Parks and Recreation hearing on the proposed Grande Ronde Scenic Bikeway Monday. Close to a dozen people spoke at the hearing, conducted at Cook Memorial Library. All said they supported the proposed bikeway.
The route would be part of the Oregon Scenic Bikeway program, which is designed to build a system of cycling routes that showcase Oregon’s natural wonders and cultural history, while providing economic and social benefits for communities.
The Grande Tour would take cyclists by Hot Lake on Highway 203, then pass through Union, Pyles Canyon and Telocaset, North Powder, the Powder Valley and Baker City.
On the way back the Grande Tour would hit Pondosa, Medical Springs, Catherine Creek State Park, Cove and Island City.
The top selling points on the proposed route include low traffic; opportunities to see the Wallowas, the Elkhorns and the Blue Mountains; and access to food and lodging. The variety of terrain on the route is another plus. It includes pasture and crop land, sagebrush and forest land.
The Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway would begin and end at Riverside Park.
Steve Antell of La Grande, who spoke at the hearing, noted that the route provides cyclists excellent views of the Elkhorns and Wallowas.
“These are views you do not get from a car,’’ Antell said.
Kem Brainerd of Elgin also spoke of the beauty of the route and what it would add to the region.
“This is an absolute must. This is a cycling paradise,’’ Brainerd said.
The only worry expressed at the hearing concerned the narrow shoulders on the side of some roads on the route. This could pose a safety issue. Still, several people at the hearing said that this problem would be nullified by the 60 signs that would be put up along the route, alerting drivers of bicyclists.
The signs would read Scenic Bikeway and have a drawing of a bicycle inside an outline of Oregon.
If approved, maps and information would be posted on biking web sites. Word of creation of the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway would undoubtedly boost tourism in Union and Baker counties, something that would be most welcome.
“Tourism is the least intrusive type of business there is,’’ said Kim Metlen of Imbler.
Sandy Sorrels of La Grande expressed a similar sentiment.
“I am totally in favor of it (the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway). This (bicycling opportunities) attracts the kind of people you want to have here,’’ Sorrels said.
The Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway has been several years in the making. Originally, supporters of the bikeway proposed that the route begin at a site east of La Grande on Highway 203. This was recommended because visitors would have easy access off Interstate 84. Riverside Park was then chosen as the starting and ending point.
The Oregon Scenic Bikeway program started in 2005. Presently it has 584 miles of routes. Two bikeways are in Eastern Oregon:
• Old West, which runs through the John Day, Monument and Dayville area.
• Blue Mountain Century, a route passing through the Heppner and Ukiah areas.
The state turned down more than 500 miles of proposed routes over the past 12 months. The routes were rejected because they lacked “scenic value’’ or had roads that were deteriorating, Phillips said.