Bike Tourism Success Stories

  1. Riding along the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway. (Image by: Russ Roca)
  2. Enjoying a stroll through the town of Estacada, Ore. along the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway. (Image by Russ Roca)
  3. Gearing up for the Killer Fang Rivers Ride along the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway. (Image by: Yvonne Messmer)
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Building momentum: How a Scenic Bikeway is transforming the local scene in Detroit, Oregon

It seemed like a natural fit: a Scenic Bikeway connecting the cities of Detroit and Estacada, following the Clackamas and Breitenbush rivers through pristine forest, with panoramic views of Mt. Hood at one end and Mt. Jefferson at the other. But the development of the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway has impacted the tourist town of Detroit far more than anyone saw coming – leading to almost $2 million in grant money and igniting a local renaissance that is injecting new spirit and economic development into the community.

Encouraged by Travel Oregon, proponents from the two towns collaborated on the Scenic Bikeway nomination and selection process, hoping to tap into the burgeoning bike-tourism scene. The proposed route was approved as a Scenic Bikeway in 2014, and one of the most rewarding aspects of the project was the partnerships formed during the planning process.

“The Scenic Bikeway project involved two towns, two National Forests, county officials, local tourism organizations, local businesses, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), even a section of privately owned land,” says Yvonne Messmer, lead proponent for the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway and owner of a home in Detroit. “The Willamette National Forest is a major partner with Detroit; they have many resources they’re willing to share, and they work really well with us. I can’t stress how much they helped: with mapping, meetings, ODOT discussions and overall support – so many aspects.”

And once the Scenic Bikeway was official, those partnerships continued to pay off. Forest Service officials let Messmer and others know about the Federal Land Access Program (FLAP), which offers grants for projects that enhance public access to federal lands – something the Scenic Bikeway absolutely does.

“The Scenic Bikeway was a major factor in being considered,” Messmer confirms. “It was real leverage for getting the grant.”

The nearly $2 million FLAP grant will be used to develop what Messmer calls “an optimal terminus point” for the Scenic Bikeway. The city of Detroit had recently demolished a vacant elementary school, and the grant funds will allow the city to adapt the former school grounds into a “trailhead park” that will include parking, a picnic area, information kiosks, bike racks and even a free bike-repair station stocked with tools and a bike stand. The new park will also link to an improved park adjacent to the lake, allowing cyclists and others to better enjoy the waterside setting.

A separate ODOT grant will pay for an upgraded crossing of busy Highway 22, with a flashing light and improved striping, where the Bikeway route crosses the highway in Detroit.

And the momentum created by the Bikeway and the grants continues to build. Messmer reports that the adjacent high school – also vacant and on privately owned land – may be donated for development into a community center. The Scenic Bikeway attracted a state “Quick Response” grant to perform a feasibility study, a crucial factor in the redevelopment of the old high school building. “There are so many possibilities for the center,” Messmer explains. “There’s a large gymnasium, a shop area, and multiple classrooms that could house local offices and businesses, and also allow indoor event space and a possible permanent home for Detroit’s fire and emergency response teams.”

“The whole thing is tumbling forward with momentum,” Messmer says. “Detroit hasn’t seen anything like the FLAP grant since the town was built. The Scenic Bikeway is having an astronomical impact; for example, our local business association has improved just since the bikeway came in. They’ve organized into the Detroit Lake Foundation, a registered nonprofit, with a professionally designed website and a promotional consultant helping market the area. We’re seeing big changes for the entire town.”

Detroit and Estacada collaborated this past summer on the first annual Killer Fang Rivers Ride, a two-day event traversing the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway in both directions, and Messmer says there has been a marked improvement in the number of cyclists coming through town since the bikeway was opened.

If any other communities would like to emulate the success and impact Detroit has experienced, Messmer has simple advice. “It’s all about the connections,” she says. “Just get involved and put yourself out there to form relationships with people and agencies; after a few years it really starts to happen. No one can do this by themselves – you’ve got to make the connections.”

See the route details for the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway.

By: Jim Moore,

The Oregon Scenic Bikeways program is the first and only of its kind in the country. Launched in 2005, the program is a partnership between OPRD, Cycle Oregon, Travel Oregon and ODOT.