Listen Here:   Bicycle Destinations

When we think about tourism development within our region, what comes to mind? Probably large resorts and attractions such as Seven Springs, Lake Raystown Resort and Idlewild Park.


Increasingly within parts of our region, however, tourism development is happening through the enhancement of already existing recreational resources – and the efforts of groups that aren’t considered “developers” by anyone including themselves.


Take the achievements of the Benscreek Canoe Club. Over the past 15 years, these kayakers and canoeists led the way on $2.5 million worth of projects that have produced a whitewater recreation area in the Stonycreek valley of northern Somerset County, attracting thousands of boaters annually.


Area bicycle groups also have been racking up some developments. Mountain bikers started the process by scratching “single-track” trails in state forests, state parks and private lands with the cooperation of the landowners.


Then in the mid-2000s, mountain bikers got more ambitious. Members of the Laurel Highlands On- and Off-Road Bicycle Association (LHORBA) and the Nittany Mountain Biking Association developed the 33-mile Allegrippis Trails system at Raystown Lake with the help and resources of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the International Mountain Bicycling Association, and the Friends of Raystown Lake.


Radically different from most other Eastern U.S. mountain bike trails because they are relatively smooth (largely free of large rocks and log crossings) and designed to be ridden faster, the Allegrippis Trails quickly have grown in popularity. Raystown now receives thousands of Allegrippis-related visits annually and is the site of a mountain bike festival that draws more than 2,000 riders each May.


Overall, the project’s costs have topped $750,000. The Raystown Mountain Bike Association, which was formed as a result of the project, leases the land, maintains the existing trails and builds new extensions.


Now LHORBA is tackling a similar project at Quemahoning Lake in northern Somerset County. Thanks to $40,000 in funding from the Stonycreek Quemahoning Initiative, the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy, REI, Lift Johnstown, and especially the Somerset County Tourism Grant Program, LHORBA planners are creating a 17-mile, Allegrippis-style mountain-bike trail around the Que, which eventually could lead to many other miles of biking and hiking loops.


Through its almost 150 members, LHORBA also provides thousands of volunteer hours annually to maintain hundreds of miles of trail already developed at Blue Knob Resort, Blue Knob State Park, Forbes State Forest (Laurel Summit), Gallitzin State Forest, Highland Park near Johnstown, Shawnee State Park and Yellow Creek State Park.


The Great Allegheny Passage and a concentration of other rail-trails known as the Trans Allegheny Trails, already are drawing hundreds of thousands of riders here. And road-riders within LHORBA will tell you that the scenic, low-traffic rural roads of Bedford and Somerset counties in particular offer some of the finest road-riding available anywhere.


Add it all together and our region’s bicyclists are well on their way to creating a destination attraction for their fellowship – just as the boating community has been doing with theirs.


As someone who is proud to be a member of both the Benscreek Canoe Club and LHORBA, and who knows many of the active volunteers, I can tell you that these people do not consider themselves tourism developers. Rather, they are pursuing their recreational interests, see the potential of our region’s resources, and want to enhance their own experiences.


However, these bicyclists and paddlers know that once they add to what they already enjoy, others from metropolitan areas within a few hours’ drive will travel here to experience those same resources.


This type of tourism development is very different than the capital-intensive, traditional model of building an attraction then marketing it aggressively to draw visitors. Recreation-enhancement tourism development is cheaper, simpler, quicker, and can be done largely with volunteers.


It’s almost organic, and it appears to be working.



Our region could become a bicycling destination


By Dave Hurst


© 2013 Hurst Media Works