Choteau could increase bicycle-riding tourism activities if the community invested in the infrastructure cyclists need as they are traveling across the state, Doug Habermann, executive director of Bike Walk Montana, told the Choteau Area Port Authority last month.
“They are friendly people. They are looking for towns just like Choteau to come and do trips around here or to pass through,” Habermann said of bicycle travelers.
Habermann, who lives in Helena, said Choteau and the Rocky Mountain Front are important to him and he wanted to share information with the CAPA that could help Choteau’s economy.
Bicycle tourism has been evolving, he said, and Baby Boomers are a growing population that is investing in touring bikes that can be ridden cross country. Economic studies show, he said, that bicycle tourists will spend two times as much in a community as motorized recreationists. They stay on average eight days in the state while motorized recreationists are only here on average one day.
Bicyclists will spend an average of $126 a day in the state because they need to purchase supplies, service their bikes and find places where they can do laundry, get a hot shower and spend the night.
Infrastructure that bicyclists need include bike repair stations, facilities with showers and camping space and scenic routes, for example, Habermann said. There’s a website called “Warm Showers” where people can offer their backyards, motels, guest houses, etc., for bicyclists to stay the night — sort of like an Airbnb for bicylists, he said.
The uptick in bicycle tourism parallels a change in the design of bicycles. Travelers on bicycles may be using cross-over bikes that can navigate any surface from asphalt to gravel roads or trails. The road from Choteau to the Sun River Canyon along the Pishkun Canal would be a great bicycle tourism route, he said, especially if bicyclists could then camp at the Sun Canyon Lodge.
Bike Walk Montana is a non-profit organization that advocates to make the state safer and more accessible for people to walk and bicycle, Habermann said.
The six-year-old organization, governed by a board of directors, unites advocates from across the state to raise awareness and work for change on the local and state level, according to the website bikewalkmontana.org. The group’s work focuses on improving laws and policies, helping community planning for bike and walking routes and creating more places to walk and bike safely.
In Montana, Habermann said, about 30 percent of people do not have a driver’s license. “That’s a pretty large percentage of our population who rely on something else for transportation,” he said.
Bike Walk also encourage people to be active by walking or bicycling because physical activity helps people live longer and have a better quality of life, Habermann said, and to do that, the organization helps promote trail systems like those in Helena and Whitefish. The group also works with Venture Cycling of Missoula (formerly Bike Centennial).
Venture Cycling, he said, creates routes for bicycle tourists that are mixes of trails, roads and highways. One popular route is the Continental Divide bike trail from Mexico to Canada that goes through Helena and runs mostly on the west side of the Rockies.
Habermann said he would like to see a route on the east side that allows people to ride around the Bob Marshall Wilderness. “That’s the kind of adventures they are looking for,” he said, and encouraged the CAPA to contact Venture Cycling to explore opportunities and see whether Choteau could be added to one of Venture Cycling’s routes.
He also encouraged the CAPA to work with the Montana Department of Transportation on the U.S. Highway 89 rebuild to seek wider road shoulders that are bicycle friendly.
Gloria O’Rourke, the coordinator of the Montana Association of Economic Developers, attends CAPA meetings via telephone. She told the board that Anaconda, where she lives, has invested in bicycle traveler infrastructure and is seeing the efforts pay off with more visitors.
She said the city worked with the Job Corps to build a portable repair station that offers phone charging. The station is situated next to the community swimming pool so cyclists can shower there. The city was just named a gateway for the Continental Divide Trail, she said. “It’s doable,” she said. “It’s not that hard and it’s not expensive.”
Habermann invited the CAPA to join Bike Walk Montana as an affiliate member. That way, he said, the CAPA logo, description and contact information would be available on the organization’s website.
CAPA members Mary Sexton, Blair Patton and Steve Dogiakos thanked Habermann for the information and said they would follow up on his suggestions.
In other business at the meeting, the board:
•Reviewed the May financial reports that showed a balance of about $6,725 in the CAPA checking account.
•Heard an update on activities at the Choteau Community Art Studio, which is continuing to move into its new Main Avenue location and is working on a new storefront sign and planning a calendar of classes, workshops and community events to be hosted at the shop. Claire Hodgskiss, speaking for the studio, said that the private nonprofit organization is changing its name to the simpler “Choteau Arts” as part of the move.
•Reelected Sexton as chairwoman and Dogiakos as vice chairman.
•Took under advisement a suggestion to hire Choteau CPA Diane Gollehon to handle grant administration.
•Talked briefly about potential financial help and incentives to encourage a Wyoming airplane engine rebuilder to relocate to Choteau and lease the former Yeager Hangar building for his business. Elisa Fiaschetti, the rural community development manager with Governor’s Office on Economic Development, also attending by telephone said she is working to make sure the Wyoming businessman knows what the state of Montana and Choteau can offer him.
•Heard that the Choteau branding and marketing committee has received a proposal from the Wendt Advertising agency to develop a marketing package for Choteau that could be shared by all organizations and businesses in their advertising, to give the community’s promotions a consistent theme and appeal. Sexton said the cost of this work would range from $8,000 to $25,000, and the CAPA could partner with the city of Choteau, the Choteau Chamber of Commerce and the Choteau Tourism Business Improvement District to apply for a grant to fund this. The board voted unanimously to authorize Sexton to apply for this grant.
•Heard from Sexton that two local organizations have received Montana Department of Commerce events grants. The MDC has given the Old Trail Museum $5,665 for the 2020 Wild Wings in Choteau bird migration festival and Front Range Yoga has received $6,050 for the 2020 Rocky Mountain Front yoga festival.
•Sexton also said that a group of local businesses and organizations is continuing to meet with officials from the University of Montana to slate a fall rendezvous in Choteau the last weekend in September. This rendezvous would be marketed to UM alumni and would involve high school students from throughout the county.