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Armstrong: Pedal power driving eco-friendly tourism revenue

Published: Monday, June 9, 2014 11:14 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, June 9, 2014 11:21 p.m. CDT

On National Bike to Work Day on May 16, we actually had a light dusting of snow. Many dedicated cyclists didn’t let the weather stop them from demonstrating their pedal power. It also coincided with the launch of Pedalpal.org, a new website that promotes cycling.

Pedal Pal was conceived by DeKalb County Board member Misty Haji-Sheikh. She wanted to improve what has already been done with the county’s Green Ways and Trails Plan to make it easier for walkers and bicyclists – and to do so at a low cost. Pedal Pal is a way for local businesses, park districts, forest preserves, municipalities and others in DeKalb County to promote cycling by placing a decal on their establishment that signifies they are bicycle friendly. Each location that displays the decal agrees to allow passing cyclists to come in and get a drink of water, use the bathroom and use the phone in case of emergency. Businesses that display the Pedal Pal decal will be promoted on the website.

As a Forest Preserve Commissioner, Haji-Sheikh sponsored a resolution to use the League of American Cyclists guidelines to add to the county’s Greenways and Trails Plan. This is a step in an ongoing effort to improve connectivity in DeKalb County. Haji-Sheikh is coordinating the effort with DeKalb County Forest Preserve, KishHealth System, Kishwaukee Family YMCA, Live Healthy DeKalb, Illinois League of Cyclists, and the DeKalb County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. The Pedal Pal website also will include links to maps and other resources in DeKalb County.

The Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition will participate, along with the Illinois National Scenic Byways and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, in a collaborative initiative to enhance the attractiveness of the byways as a destination for cycling enthusiasts.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration awarded a $271,069 National Scenic Byway Program Grant to be used by all seven Illinois National Scenic Byways for this project. Funding will cover the cost for the design and purchase of 362 bicycle racks to be placed at key sites throughout Illinois Byway communities. ILHC will receive 73 of the bike racks to be placed in 16 communities along the Illinois Lincoln Highway corridor.

Our bureau worked with the Illinois Lincoln Highway to secure 18 bike racks for DeKalb County. Eight will be installed in DeKalb, eight in Cortland and two more at Lake Shabbona.

The bike rack design features QR codes, allowing visitors to easily obtain information about the byway on which they are traveling. Each QR code will connect travelers to information about local community attractions, dining, lodging and in some cases, other bike paths and trail systems. The completed project will provide an additional way to enhance the recreational experience and welcome cyclists to Illinois’ byways, as well as offer additional community and byway information.

MS: Tour de Farms Bike Event

We will welcome 2,300 bike riders June 21 and 22 for MS: Tour de Farms. More than 400 hotel room nights are booked for the event. Community members can volunteer to ride to raise money or to help with road crews online at: www.nationalmssociety.org. This group is the true definition of “Pedal Power.” They generate approximately $400,000 for the local economy based on the numbers their event planners provided our bureau.

The event route goes throughout DeKalb County with start and finish at Northern Illinois University. Their brightly colored tents will be brimming with riders and volunteers who have come together to raise money to battle multiple sclerosis. We salute them for their ongoing efforts to provide funding and resources for those afflicted with the disease. They are changing the quality of life for millions of people. Until next time, safe travels.

• Debbie Armstrong is executive director of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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