This article originally appeared in the Portland Press Herald.
Small towns far from the fast lane await bicyclists when the state’s first multi-day tour begins next month.
By Deirdre Fleming firstname.lastname@example.org
DOVER-FOXCROFT – From the small, historic lakeside village to the quiet farms, Dover-Foxcroft has a lot to offer tourists in the way of New England flavor. The woodland trails, ample waterfalls and town park filled with wildflowers are just a sample. Let’s not forget the Whoopie Pie Festival.
Kim True, director of BikeMaine’s first 400-mile bicycle tour next month, rides along a stretch of farming country just outside Dover-Foxcroft, where some 250 bicyclists from more than 35 states will soon follow in her path. Scenic farms, as well as historic presentations, conservation lessons, local humorists and regional culture, will be among the many attractions on BikeMaine’s first extended trip Sept. 7-14.
Yet while this inland town offers a sense of Maine, the feeling here is tourists miss that.
Well next month, a single bike ride will change that.
“When you stop in small towns you experience the people, the state. People crave authentic experiences today. People want to enjoy something real, to engage in that. And you get that on a bike,” said Kim True, director of the inaugural BikeMaine ride.
The eight-day, 400-mile ride will draw 250 riders from more than 35 states, True said, as it leads them on a tour of inland towns between Dover-Foxcroft and Ellsworth, as well as along the coast to Belfast, Castine and Bar Harbor.
When the first Maine multi-day bike tour that is run en masse is done, True believes the riders will return to experience other small towns or to retrace the 2013 route. That route will be filled with historic presentations, conservation lessons, local humorists, theater, art galleries and more. And eventually in the years ahead, the large-scale bike tour is expected to raise money for bike advocacy in Maine, True said.
Bringing in tourists by bike to small towns proved a success in other states where culturally rich, cross-state bike tours are held. Colorado launched its Ride the Rockies tour 28 years ago; Oregon has held a bike tour every year since 1987 and Ohio’s Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure has been running 25 years strong. In these states and others, week-long bike tours have highlighted the less-traveled areas and brought tourist dollars to culturally rich, yet remote towns. Colorado was one of the first with its six-day, cross-state tour that started in 1986 and drew 1,500 riders from around the country. Today Colorado uses a lottery system to register around 2,000 riders each year, and draws from several countries. Jake Luhmann, Ride the Rockies spokesman, said the Colorado tour brings $250,000 a day into communities each year.
And it’s still about the small towns.
“We highlight what happens in each town. That’s the biggest part of it. We take lots and lots of photographs and show riders there are more things to visit. People know beforehand what will be offered and can get off the saddle and experience it, or come back,” Luhmann said.
The people of Dover-Foxcroft are hoping for all of that and more, said Town Manager Jack Clukey. As he sat beside their riverside park on a hot summer day, Clukey couldn’t boast of being a cyclist. But with a garden full of vibrant wildflowers behind him, he listed events, people and sites the riders will see in his hometown. “We want to give a real Maine experience and to teach about our history,” Clukey said.
From the historic Sebec village on Sebec Lake, to the Maine game wardens who have become celebrities on the hit cable show “North Woods Law,” to the rebuilt community theater and international student body at Dover-Foxcroft Academy, this town of 6,000 wants to share its sense of community, its hard-working farmland ethic and big love of nature.
And to the people of Dover-Foxcroft, BikeMaine is a chance to prove their Down East warmth, New England hospitality and rich history. “People think of Maine as lobsters and lighthouses. Maine is also mountains, lakes and loons,” said Janet Sawyer at the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, which is working with Dover-Foxcroft on the event. “Dover-Foxcroft is in a transition, returning to what’s authentic here, trying not to lose what is special. So many towns today are about big box stores and bypasses. You have to be careful,” Sawyer added.
True believes Maine’s other small towns along the tour will help showcase the state’s pristine and friendly byways. And at the same time, these host towns will help promote biking, encourage healthy lifestyles and spark tourism in these regions, she said.
The tour will be held Sept. 7 to 14 so it won’t run during the busy summer traffic. And True believes when it’s done, some of the cyclists from 35 states will take their BikeMaine guide books and return to Maine’s small towns. “When a state has vibrant bike programs, it has greater tourism,” True said.
Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: