In December of 2011, the Travel Industry Association of Kansas challenged Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to push for bike trails along every scenic and historic byway in the Sunflower State. The association’s report listed five “product development opportunities upon which Kansas tourism professionals believe Kansas should focus,” two of which highlighted bicycling and its potential impact on tourism.
The first of these called for the creation of a five-year plan to obtain right-of-way trails adjacent to each byway, and the second called for the adoption of a 10-year plan to obtain right-of-way trails adjacent to each trail. This would require the installation of safe infrastructure and the generation of the appropriate government-private sector partnerships.
With so many wonderful scenic and historic vistas in our state, this plan could place Kansas in the top five states in the nation for outdoor educational recreation. These ideas have the added benefit of promoting hiking and horseback riding as well.
In Kansas, tourism is already one of the top economic engines in the state, with a $5.83 billion economic impact, employing about 10 percent of the population, and provides nearly 15 percent of all state and local tax receipts. Each visitor to the state spent an average of $236 in 2011, and 73 percent of each tourism dollar spent in Kansas is retained in the state.
Although Kansas hasn’t broken down the impact of bicycling on tourism, other states have. In Wisconsin, bicycling annually brings in $535 million in tourism from out of state visitors, and contributes $1.5 billion to the state’s economy each year. In Iowa, bicycling generates $364.8 million in direct and indirect benefits to the state of Iowa every year. An Oregon study found that “bicycle tourism brings in a whopping $325 million into the Oregon economy” and “an overnight bike tourist had 19 times the economic impact of a day tourist.”
Why bring this up now?
This information came from the Kansas Cyclist website as numerous communities across the state are developing multi-year master plans with a keen eye on the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians. Wichita, Topeka and Hutchinson come to mind.
This also comes as a group of Barton County residents has come together to form Be Well Barton County, a team funded by a Kansas Health Foundation grant that falls under the Central Kansas Partnership. A key goal of Be Well is to promote biking and hiking opportunities for people of all ages.
There is a growing trend in America, and in Kansas, to become bike/hike friendly. The Golden Belt is well poised to cash in on this trend.
We have miles of excellent blacktop highways. We have the Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway that is connected by some of these roads. We are oozing with tourism and historical potential.
City councils , school boards and the County Commission are urged to take a serious look at these and study how they can take part.
Our civic leaders have an incredible opportunity to stamp their legacies on not only the health, but also the health of this region.