published Thursday, May 8th, 2014

National leaders visit for bike, hike tourism efforts

Rails, trails and bicycle tourism will be the focus of a series of planning and educational meetings next week in Chattanooga.

Key presenters are Jim Sayer, executive director of the Adventure Cycling Association; Marianne Fowler, senior vice president of federal relations for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy; and Katherine Kraft, coalition director for AmericaWalks. Meetings will focus on the recreational, health and economic benefits of bicycle tourism and on how to use rail trails for tourism and recreation and as a means of connecting neighborhoods.

Two public events are included:

■ Monday, May 12: "On the Road and on the Trail," 6 p.m., at Outdoor Chattanooga, 200 River St. in Coolidge Park. Learn more about Adventure Cycling, America Walks and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy -- their organizations, missions and success stories -- and about how cities like Chattanooga have become involved and benefited. Free bicycle parking.

■ Tuesday, May 13: "Bicycle Tourism, Trail Development and Connectivity," 10 a.m., Chattanooga Public Library auditorium, 1001 Broad St. Topics will include case studies demonstrating the economic impact of bicycle tourism, insights on rail trails nationwide, the positive effect of trails on neighborhood connectivity and the economic benefits rail trails, such as the Silver Comet Connector in Smyrna, Ga., bring to their trail towns.

"It's rare that a city gets the chance to host even one of these experts," says Philip Pugliese, director of Active Living and Transportation Network, which, along with Outdoor Chattanooga, is organizing the events. "This is a unique opportunity to tap the expertise of all three at the same time."

While here, Sayer, Fowler and Kraft will meet with public and private-sector officials working to promote Chattanooga as a regional hub for the U.S. Bicycle Route System, a developing national network of bicycle routes, currently at nearly 6,000 miles, that will link urban, suburban and rural areas, and the Adventure Cycling Route Network, a network of more than 40,000 miles of rural and low-traffic bicycling routes through some of the most scenic and historically significant terrain in North America.

The group will also look at local opportunities to leverage existing railroad rights of way to expand the region's greenway network, resulting in improved neighborhood connectivity and local and regional recreational and transportation opportunities. This includes a possible connection between Chattanooga and the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga Trails, which run nearly 100 miles from Smyrna, outside Atlanta, to Anniston, Ala.

The three leaders are coming to Chattanooga at the invitation of local trails advocate Jim Johnson, whose company, Bike Tours Direct, is underwriting the cost of their visit and is a leading corporate sponsor of Adventure Cycling.

For more information, contact Outdoor Chattanooga at 423-643-6889 or Bike Tours Direct at 423-756-8907.

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