(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
Where timber once ruled the economy, mountain biking is providing new hope. That’s the story for a growing number of rural communities throughout Oregon. The trend isn’t new; but it’s maturing to the point where policymakers can no longer ignore it. On the heels of a major report from Travel Oregon that showed a $400 million annual economic impact from bike-related travel, Linfield College Professor (and bike race promoter) Jeff McNamee is garnering headlines for his research on the economic benefits of mountain biking events in small Oregon towns.
McNamee shared his research at the Oregon Active Transportation Summit last month. McNamee and his two student assistants analyzed the economic impact of three events (two in Bend, one in Oakridge) and surveyed a mountain bike outfitter/touring company. Specifically, they analyzed spending and other impacts from the High Cascades 100 Endurance Race and USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships in Bend and the Mountain Bike Oregon event in Oakridge. They also surveyed customers of Cog Wild, a mountain biking guide company based in Bend.
The three events drew over 1,700 people from over 28 states and several countries (65% were from out of Oregon). Taken together, the three events and the touring company customers led to $2.6 million in direct tourism spending, $3.7 million in sales and 52 local jobs.
While Bend has a well-established reputation as a host of major bicycling events and they’re far from a small and struggling rural economy, this economic impact is especially important in a town like Oakridge (a small town southeast of Eugene with about 3,000 people). McNamee’s research showed that Mountain Bike Oregon alone pumped $1.2 million into the Oakridge economy.
The mountains, forests, and rugged landscapes that surround many of Oregon’s small rural towns are perfect for mountain biking. We shared another example of this in March with our story about a rancher in eastern Oregon who is reinventing his business as a mountain biking destination. And there are many other examples: Oregon Bicycle Racing Association Executive Director Kenji Sugahara recently noted the attendance at the annual Echo Red-to-Red mountain bike race doubles that towns population and the small town of Cascade Locks in the Gorge has developed a mountain bike trail system that now supports a weekly mountain bike race series.
McNamee’s research and the support of bicycle tourism from Travel Oregon couldn’t come at a better time. Many of Oregon’s small timber towns are struggling to find the Next Big Thing for their economies as federal subsidies and budgets to support timber lands dwindles and leaves them with few traditional options. Developing good trails and positioning themselves as a mountain bike destination isn’t a silver bullet; but it can be the spark that keeps these communities alive and opens their communities up to other possibilities.
— Download The Economic Impact of Mountain Bicycle Events in Oregon (PDF).