The impact of tourism dollars on "trail-towns" in rural America has long been a point of pride for the trail movement. These days, we're excited to see more major cities catching on to the tourism value that trails and greenways generate as well.
In September, RTC heard from one of our friends at the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau in Massachusetts. They were seeking to roll out the red carpet for a travel writer from the U.K. on a mission to experience Boston by bicycle. It was a unique chance to promote The Hub's world-class trail network, and recognition that local officials taking cycle-tourism seriously.
Seeking an ambassador, we were glad to make contact with Jeff Roth of Belmont, Mass. Over the years, Jeff, an experienced cyclist, has been an increasingly active trails advocate. When we reached out to him about being a guide for the visiting writer, and an ambassador for the region's trails, Jeff jumped at the chance.
"It was fun to share historical landmarks that one can see along the rail-trails," Jeff says. "For example, on theMinuteman Bikeway in Arlington, there is a hidden granite archway bridge dating from the 1840s that a brook passes through to go underneath the railroad embankment. I biked over this bridge several hundred times before discovering it myself."
On a tour that led from the door of a downtown Boston hotel to the Charles River Esplanade, Jeff and the writer rode through historic Harvard Square and on to the town of Belmont. There, a new rail-with-trail connection took them to the metro-transit and trail hub at Alewife Station, where they picked up the Minuteman Bikeway. Eleven miles later, in Bedford, they viewed a restored "Buddliner" railcar at the Bedford Depot, which marks the current endpoint for the trail.
"We got to experience the whole variety of bicycle accommodations, from bicycle lanes in dense downtown Boston, to kid- and family-friendly off-road rail-trails," Jeff says. "The variety helped contrast the different experiences of being on a busy roadway path, versus the rail-trails we went on, which were much more peaceful and quiet."
With rail-trails, greenways and bike lanes all coming in to the mix, it's impossible to overstate the dedication and thoughtfulness of local activists and planners like Jeff whose work over decades now helps keep locals healthier, safer, better connected and a bit greener.
Now, the rising acclaim of Boston in the global cycling community is bringing focus to the economic impact tourism dollars can bring.
"Cycle tourism means the opportunity for visitors to patronize local businesses," Jeff says. "The travel writer was excited about the Old Schwamb Mill, where we stopped, and which has a museum and a store selling Shaker products. Steps from the bikeway, it's an ideal spot for visitors to see a historical landmark and find a souvenir, but you'd easily miss it if you are driving a car."
Cycle tourism, and the promise of its economic stimulus, also helps spur the construction of future trails.
"Our route from Belmont to Alewife was on a new trail, which we have not yet been able to bring to Belmont Center, which is a destination for many people," Jeff says. "Completion of the trail to Belmont Center would allow visitors to easily get to the local restaurants and businesses there."
"I hope the travel writer's story helps others discover that exploring by bicycle is really unique and fun," Jeff says. "There are things, like the sounds of birds and the scent of wild grapes growing along the trail, that are best experienced by bike."
Along with Jeff, we at RTC are thrilled about more positive exposure for trails, and we extend our thanks to him for stepping in as a "rail-trail ambassador."