In biker's heaven, with no bike lanes
by Laura Johnson
Apr 06, 2011 | 3656 views |  4 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
From the foothills of Piedmont to the tip of the Chief Ladiga Trail, Calhoun County has pristine terrain for cycling enthusiasts say, but you might not know it at first glance.

Most streets lack signs that might encourage cyclists, and bike lanes don’t line the streets. Bike shops are scarce in the county’s cities, outfitters are hard to find and health food bakeries that might cater to visiting cyclists are too few to be counted on one hand.

But effort from people like Mike Poe, director of the upcoming Sunny King Criterium, and Preston York, the vice president for mountain biking for the Northeast Alabama Biking Association are going a long way in changing that.

Eventually, some might identify the area for its outdoor sporting activities, in the same way people once identified towns like Jacksonville with cotton mills, York said.

York said selling Calhoun County as a center for cycling and other outdoor sports isn’t difficult. The natu-ral attributes of the land make it easy, but it will take a holistic approach from stakeholders to help it de-velop a reputation that will match its potential, he said. To help secure Calhoun County’s identity as a cy-cling haven, said Poe.

“I think we could be a destination place for cycling clubs and groups looking for a place to get some good cycling in,” said Poe. He said it hasn’t happed yet because of “a lack of a coordinated effort locally.”

The county already has the landscape for it, and even some trails, but to really take advantage of those assets the county needs the very things that are absent from local streets, he said. Signage, road space and street markings for cyclists are the first step needed to popularize the activity, enthusiasts say.

At least one area municipality, Jacksonville, is doing some of those things. Last year it began the Bicy-cling Advisory Committee. So far, it’s the only municipality along the Chief Ladiga Trail that has done so.

The committee’s goal is to take small steps to encourage people to cycle in Jacksonville, said commis-sion member Henry Campeaux. To date, they’ve worked with the city to install bright red bicycle racks around the square and helped develop cycling information packages for Jacksonville State University Students. Now the committee is working with the city to mark the pavement on a few city streets with ar-rows and symbols for cyclists. They’re trying to establish cycling signs along the roads.

Campeaux said the committee came together at the urging of Mayor Johnny Smith and Jack Plunk, who works as a principal planner for the East Alabama Planning Commission. Its primary goal is to make cy-cling more comfortable for the novice.

Cyclists often use the Ladiga and have driven development in the cities the trail runs through. In Pied-mont, the Eubanks Welcome Center gets regular visits from trail travelers and Jacksonville recently re-furbished an old train depot to greet people cycling along the path.

It could also lead to more development, said Weaver Mayor Garry Bearden. He said the Ladiga has brought tourists to the small city near the trail head for years. The Ladiga passes through the city’s heart right by Weaver Park where a BMX Park already exists.

Bearden said though the city has no trail-related businesses now, he hopes it eventually does. He said he’d like to see a rental shop come to the area.

With two trails and one creek converging at the foothills in Piedmont, Mayor Brian Young said he knows about the growing popularity of outdoor sports. The welcome center there is tracking a record number of visitors. Cyclists stop in from across the nation, and even from across the country, he said.

“It’s been an evolving thing,” he said. “Twenty or thirty years ago their might not have been anyone who realized there was such an (interest) out there.”

Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.

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In biker's heaven, with no bike lanes by Laura Johnson

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