Chapel Hill: Opinion

Heidi Perov Perry: Finding Common Ground on Rural Roads

When motorists come upon a group of people riding bikes on our rural roads, some look at them as impediments to their destination.

When I see people riding bikes, whether I am behind them in a car or riding a bike on the same roads, I see an economic development tool that could help our county prosper and that is currently untapped. After a recent trip to Oregon, one of the cycling tourism capitals of the country, I have returned believing more than ever that there is money in promoting cycling in Orange County.

Every piece of travel literature one receives from Oregon prominently features photos of bicycles. The state produces a map boasting “Oregon’s Scenic Bikeways.” Portland’s airport has a bike fix-it station and a variety of bike-related souvenirs in its shops. Some hotels advertise themselves as bike friendly.

All of these things make a cyclist feel welcome – expected, even – and Oregon has discovered that this is good for the economy. The state of Oregon estimates it brings in $400 million a year through its scenic bikeways promotion (

Bringing that thought back home, Orange County has some truly beautiful rural roads that draw local cyclists in huge numbers every weekend and on several weekdays and evenings as well. I have ridden these roads for exercise and recreation since the late ’70s, and in that time remarkably little has changed or disturbed the beautiful expanses of fields and farmland, especially in the western and northern parts of the county. Why not promote the special beauty that our county boasts?

Several recent projects being considered for rural Orange County (an airport, a transfer station, a wind farm, to name a few) were loudly rejected by residents and/or were voted down by the county commissioners. Given the lack of support for any of these changes, the county and its residents might be better off exploring ways to preserve and market our natural vistas for tourism dollars.

By shunning large new developments and by supporting our farmers and their farms, much could be done to promote Orange County as a travel destination for cyclists.

In Brevard, N.C., Oskar Blues Brewery and Reeb Cycles offer a “Bike Farm” experience, which includes camping (or fancier accommodations) and guided or unguided mountain biking, and even occasional concerts. Why couldn’t Orange County do the same with a B&B or a campground promoting bicycling on county roads?

Update the current Orange County bike map to highlight popular riding routes as well as destinations (Honeysuckle Tea House, Maple View Farm, the Farm Tours, and town attractions like Historic Hillsborough, UNC, the Botanical Garden, downtown Carrboro). Carrboro’s Hampton Inn and Chapel Hill’s Franklin Hotel or Carolina Inn, with a bit of bicycle friendliness and some advertising, could alternatively provide an urban base for cyclists. From there, cyclists could head out either with one of the local bike clubs or on their own, and enjoy a day of healthy exercise cycling in Orange County while working up an appetite for a meal at one of the many local restaurants..

Thinking bigger and into the future, I can envision a cycle track or separated bike lane from Carrboro to Hillsborough along scenic Old 86. A perfect ride, one that could not only be promoted as a scenic bikeway, but could also serve as a great commuter route for cyclists and as a way to directly and safely ride to Twin Creeks Park.

People who cycle recreationally or who select cycling destinations for their vacations want beautiful roads and a feeling that they are welcome. We already have the first part of the equation. Perhaps, if we can start to see people on bikes as a boost to our economy, we’ll get that second part, too.

Heidi Perov Perry is a user of all forms of transportation, but the bicycle is her favorite way to get around. She lives in Carrboro.