By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
U.S. Bike Route 76, which currently runs from the western border of Kansas to the east coast in Virginia, is just a dotted line across a map of Wyoming right now.
But that could soon change, making Wyoming part of a national bicycle route that runs from Oregon to Vermont.
Kerry Irons, the U.S. Bike Route Volunteer Coordinator for the Adventure Cycling Association, said plans are in place to make 76 a designated bicycling route through Wyoming.
“The route in Wyoming is based on an Adventure Cycling route,” Irons told Cowboy State Daily. “We have created maps around the country for major rides. We found what we felt were good bike routes for long distance travel. And that is the target audience here – this is not 8-to-80, or mom and dad and the kids on Sunday. This is people who are out on the road for weeks on end, doing long distance.”
The Adventure Cycling Association (which was established in 1976 as a resource for serious bicyclists) is responsible for mapping the first bicycle touring route to cross the U.S., known as the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail. The route runs from Astoria, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia, mostly along rural, two-lane highways.
The association also serves as a technical support agency to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). AASHTO has published a national corridor plan for bicycle routes. So far, 18,000 miles of highways have been designated as bicycle touring routes.
Irons said the designation of a bicycle route through Wyoming could provide an economic benefit to small towns.
“U.S. bike routes are not a construction project,” Irons said. “They’re a mapping project. The TransAmerica trail has been in business for 45 years. It’s a well-known route and lots of people ride it. With this designation as a U.S. bike route, we’ll put it on the map, so if somebody wants to come to Wyoming from someplace else in the U.S. or the world, they’ll be able to find this route easily. It’s not creating new infrastructure; it’s not starting from scratch on bicycle tourism in Wyoming. But it’s one more layer of visibility for this route – one more way to get more people in Wyoming, doing long-distance bicycle trips.”
The Town of Jackson recently submitted a letter to WYDOT expressing support for U.S. Bike Route 76 and its proposed path through town.
Brian Schilling, Pathways and Trails Coordinator for Teton County, said the town has made significant investments in a safe pathway system, and the proposed bike route would take advantage of that infrastructure.
“In Jackson, and in Teton County, we have this very robust network of separated bicycle and pedestrian pathways that offer a great opportunity for cyclists of all abilities to not have to ride on the roadway, on the highway shoulder, and so provides for a much more comfortable, enjoyable and safe experience for cyclists of all ages and abilities,” Schilling said.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) is part of the U.S. Bike Route planning process, according to Director Luke Reiner. Reiner told Cowboy State Daily that the goal is to establish safe routes for bicyclists.
“Our responsibility is, to the extent possible, to ensure that the route is as bicycle-friendly as it can be,” Reiner said. “So for example, if it goes over Teton pass, we make sure we sweep that pass on the shoulders to make sure there’s no gravel. I mean, if there’s sand or gravel on the road, it can make for a bad deal, especially if you’re rolling fast down the hill.”
Part of WYDOT’s role in designating the U.S. Bike Route is choosing the safest path – which means keeping bicyclists off major interstates.
“We’d look at the proposed route, and just make sure we’re not intermingling bikes with a large amount of trucks or vehicles,” said Keith Fulton, WYDOT’s Assistant Chief Engineer for Engineering and Planning. “They may not always go on the state highways – they may be using bike paths or city streets.”
Reiner explained that the proposed path comes from Idaho over Teton pass, goes into Jackson and then over Togwotee pass into Dubois; then down to Lander and across to Muddy Gap. From Muddy Gap it heads northeast toward Casper, and then south into Shirley Basin until it intersects Highway 30 and heads to Wolcott Junction – from there the route goes south into Colorado.
“Now, you might think, oh, that’s sort of a circuitous route,” Reiner noted. “And you would be correct. The original proposal, when you hit Muddy Gap, came south to Rawlins, and then took the interstate over to Wolcott Junction and went south. And really, our focus on safety said, ‘Hey, listen, we think it’s a bad idea to put that many bikes on the interstate.’”
Both Irons and Reiner explained that once the state receives approval from neighboring states, where the route connects, it will be up to AASHTO to approve this section of U.S. Bike Route 76 as a designated corridor.
“We have essentially all the local agencies that need to sign off,” said Irons. “And Brian (in Jackson) has kind of been the last key to that puzzle. And so now we’re waiting for Colorado and Idaho to tell Wyoming DOT that they support the connection. And then in early April, Wyoming DOT can submit an application to the Feds, and that gets reviewed at a meeting in late May – and that’s where the route could then be approved at the National Special Committee on route numbering. And then it’s designated.”
Schilling noted that the town of Jackson doesn’t expect a huge influx of tourism from this designation.
“At this point we’re so inundated, the addition of 20 cyclists a week, which would be, I think, a high-end estimate, no one will even notice that,” Schilling said. “But having said that, Jackson and Teton County and Grand Teton National Park have in the past five to 10 years really started to develop a reputation as a great destination for cycling, and it’s primarily because of our pathway system. So we are seeing a lot of use of our pathways by tourists.”
From a statewide standpoint, Director Reiner said having this designated bike route would be a boon to Wyoming’s tourism industry.
“It’s a chance to see a beautiful part of the state, see some wildlife,” Reiner said. “know, part of our task is supporting our state’s economy. And certainly, this fits into the aspect of supporting bicycle tourism.”