by Eric Stearley
As you travel around the county, you may have noticed thin yellow signs with a bike and an arrow going up in many new locations. On Thursday, July 17, the last of 102 signs was fastened to its post outside Lagro to complete the 104-mile Wabash County Bike Trail.
Years ago, the county mapped the route for a bike trail based on features that cyclists look for in a route. The current route begins and ends at Paradise Spring Historical Park, taking cyclists along low-traffic roads past 17 historic points of interest from Lafontaine and Somerset to Roann and North Manchester. It also links Salamonie and Mississinewa reservoirs.
“When riders come into a new area to ride, they’re looking for certain types of pieces to a quality ride,” said Christine Flohr, executive director of tourism at the Wabash County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “One, is some hills and scenery, but they also want it to be unique and specific to that ride, and that’s what makes this unique. It is designed specifically to tell a part of our history and a part of our story.”
Though some form of the trial has been in place for decades, it lacked trail markers. Riders could look at a map of the trail, but remembering each turn on a trail as long as this was nearly impossible. With the signs now in place, following the trail is easy, even for those unfamiliar with the route.
“It’s not only important for new riders to know where the route is, but to remind vehicular traffic that this is actually a recognized bike route throughout our county,” said Flohr. “For their safety, it’s critical to make sure that vehicular traffic is aware that they’re sharing the road with riders. The motivation to install the signs was for safety.”
Flohr was sure to show gratitude to the groups that made the signs possible. The city and county allowed the signs to be placed, as did Miami County, into which the trail takes a brief departure as it crosses the Mississinewa Dam.
“But there’s an expense to them, so finding a financial contributor like Midwest Eye Consultants to help sponsor the cost of these signs is pinnacle,” said Flohr. “Dr. Greg Garner is a cyclist, and he’s an enthusiast about it and has enjoyed riding with the Rock City Bike Club for years, and he recognized the need for the signs as well.”
The signs will prove useful for local groups, such as the Rock City Bike Club, which Flohr estimates has about 60 members. In addition, a well-marked bike route will serve as a catalyst to draw in more riders from outside the county.
“We estimate about 3,300 cyclists cycle the trail from out of the county each year,” said Flohr, whose position requires her to monitor tourism in all forms.
It was critical that the sign installation was complete before September, as the Dam to Dam Century Ride is scheduled for the 14th. There are currently 112 riders signed up for the event, and Flohr expects that number to approach 200 by the day of the ride. This will be the first opportunity to showcase the newly marked trail to a large group of people. With riders traveling from four states for the event, Flohr hopes the signs will help to put Wabash on the map as a cycling destination.
“We’ve already seen a significant increase in interest in our community just since we launched the Dam to Dam Century bike ride,’ said Flohr. “We can look at places like Wisconsin and Ohio and Michigan that are specifically interested in our area since we launched our Dam to Dam bike ride, because that’s what our analytics tell us, so seeing about a 47% increase just in website traffic that is specific to this ride tells us that it’s going to increase and drive more tourism.
“People who are driving far distances are coming into our area and staying the night. That’s what we want,” Flohr added. “We want people to enjoy Wabash County as a day trip, as a weekend trip, and eventually grow it to be weeklong vacation trips.”
This year’s Dam to Dam Century Ride will include: a Friday night screening of the Heartland Film Festival Grand Prize Winner, Rising From Ashes, a movie about the Rwandan National Cycling Team; a discounted spaghetti dinner at Harvey Hinklemeyer’s; post-ride entertainment; and “swag bags” with items from Living Essentials and Cliff Bar, among others. Thanks to local government, the Wabash County Highway Department, the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and Midwest Eye Consultants, the ride will be complete with a well-marked route.