Oregon's richest prehistoric landscape could soon have a new addition.
Currently in its "recommended" phase, the Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway would become the state's 15th official scenic bike route if approved by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
Similar to the concept of designating scenic roadways, signs would be installed along the 120-mile proposed bikeway in Wheeler County to mark a route for those who want to pedal while taking in the paleontology of the area.
The proposed route would follow the John Day River, passing by rainbow-ribboned layers of stone age sediment and all three units of the fossil beds national monument like a journey back in time. Cyclists on the Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway would also wind through the towns of Fossil, Spray, Service Creek, Kimberly, and Mitchell, which proponents hope will boost the economies in those rural communities.
"Several years ago the State Bikeway Committee came out and rated [the proposed route] very highly. It's an area that's pretty close to Bend that not a lot of people know how beautiful it is," Parks Department Bicycle Recreation Coordinator Alexandra Phillips says. "Just a few weekend cyclists coming through and staying at the bed and breakfast and eating at the cafe in Fossil would bring significant help to the community, whereas in Bend a couple more road cyclists wouldn't be noticed because the cycling community is already so strong."
According to Phillips, the project would be relatively inexpensive because no new paths would need to be carved out in order to create the Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway. The proposed route snakes across existing roads, making signage the biggest cost.
By designating the route as an official scenic bikeway, Travel Oregon and the State Parks Department would join in promoting the path, making it more convenient for cyclists to plan every detail of their trip, from tracking coordinates to finding a continental breakfast. "Someone could go to oregonscenicbikeways.org, print out the map, and read the ride description; and they can also go to the companion site rideoregon.com to see all the businesses along the route to find a hotel and plan their trip in a few minutes."
Phillips hosted a public meeting on behalf of the State Parks Department last Thursday evening in Fossil to share information about the project and collect public comment. In order to designate the bikeway, feedback from the community needs to come in for the State Parks Committee to consider its decision.
Because the project requires little funding and has economic incentives for several communities around the Painted Hills, there isn't much opposition, according to Phillips. Some have concerns about safety, though.
Phillips says safety hazards would be minimized by communicating with the Oregon Department of Transportation on improvements for road cycling.
The public will have a month to submit comments on the bikeway project before a final version is submitted to the State Scenic Bikeway Committee and State Parks Commission. If designated, the Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway could open as early as this spring, according to Phillips. "It's a very inexpensive project that can promote biking in a really scenic area that could use some economic development."
Submit any public comment on the Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway at firstname.lastname@example.org or Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department, 725 Summer St. NE Suite C, Salem, OR 97031.