Metlens busy promoting cycling around valley

By Bill Rautenstrauch / For The Observer December 30, 2013 10:32 am

Kim and Anita Metlin helped start the Grande Tour and are now hoping to bring more amenities to Northeast Oregon bicyclists and tourists.
Kim and Anita Metlin helped start the Grande Tour and are now hoping to bring more amenities to Northeast Oregon bicyclists and tourists.
Not long ago, Kim and Anita Metlen gave up their jobs as bicycle sales people, passing their Mountain Works bike shop in La Grande on to their daughter and son-in-law and retiring to their pretty little rural home on the outskirts of Imbler.

But their exit from the business was anything but an exit from the world of cycling. It meant more time for riding, here in the Grande Ronde Valley and in places all over the Pacific Northwest, and it meant more time for promoting cycling as an economic driver for the community.

The Metlens have heard the Oregon Tourism Commission say that bike-related tourism contributes $400 million a year to the state’s economy, and they believe it. They’re dedicated to seeing that Union County and Northeast Oregon get a fair share of the money.

“Bike tourism is good for the area,” Anita said. “It’s good for everybody. It’s economic development, and it’s fun.”

Even before leaving Mountain Works, the Metlens were heavily involved in an effort to get a route in Northeast Oregon designated as a state Scenic Bikeway.

They laid out several possible routes and hit pay dirt with the ride they called the Grande Tour, a 134-mile open-road trek that starts at Riverside Park in La Grande, proceeds to a halfway point at Baker City, then turns back to La Grande via the Medical Springs backcountry.

The Grande Tour had what the state looks for in a scenic bikeway. With its wide roads, limited traffic and varying topography, it could appeal to riders of all skill levels.

In places, it followed the historic Oregon Trail, and it went through communities whose past is linked to the trail. It took riders through beautiful rural countryside, but had amenities and services all along the way.

It fit the guidelines in spades, and won the coveted designation.

The tourism commission, also known as Travel Oregon, lends promotion to the scenic bikeways, notably through the website Now, adventure cyclists scouring the Internet for worthy places to ride have their attention directed to Union and Baker counties.

“Travel Oregon takes it over, so you get their promotional capabilities. It becomes statewide and international coverage,” Anita said.

Creation of the Grande Tour is only the beginning of things the Metlens hope to accomplish. Recently they submitted a proposal for a state Scenic Mountain Bike Trail, a 20-mile stretch between Andes Prairie in Union County and Buck Mountain at the edge of the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness Area.

If approved by Travel Oregon that route too would be listed on The more exposure there, said Anita, the better off the region will be.

“We need to get a cluster of trails on the site. People see it and say, ‘Oh, we’ll come.’” she said.

The ever-busy couple is also involved in a local push to construct a hiking and biking trail alongside the Wallowa-Union Railroad tracks in Union and Wallowa counties.

Also related to the railroad, they’ve designed a pedal car that can be mounted on the tracks and ridden along scenic stretches not used by excursion trains. They hope to be offering rides in 2014.

And there’s more. 

The Metlens are lobbying local and state agencies for a westward extension of the Grande Ronde River 
Greenway, from Riverside Park to Hilgard State Park, for biking and hiking.

They’re also out spreading the word to local businesses about Travel Oregon’s Bike Friendly Business Program, which results in valuable support for designated businesses including exposure on the 
rideoregonride website.

For the more immediate future, the Metlens are planning the 2014 Grande Tour Spring Ride, a two-day group ride along the state-designated scenic bikeway. Proceeds from the May event will be used for route improvements including kiosks with maps and information about regional attractions.

The Metlens never quit thinking of ways to make the bike experience in Northeast Oregon bigger and better. For them, the possibilities are 

“One big dream for the Grande Tour is to have bike fix stations along the way, with tools and pumps,” Kim said. “Another would be to extend the route along the greenway to Hilgard. That would be the best in the world.”