IT would be difficult to gain a statistical measure from the most recent recognition of the quality of life in Bartholomew County — designation as one of the stops in a proposed international bicycle route.
There is no question, however, that this area will reap a number of ripple effect benefits from the inclusion of Bartholomew County in one of the routes being drawn up by the Indianapolis-based Hoosier Rails to Trails Council.
U.S. Bicycle Route 35 will enter Bartholomew County from Shelby County, utilizing several county roads before entering Columbus and later emerging south of the city onto State Road 11 at Jonesville, which will take cyclists into Jackson County.
Columbus, in particular, was deemed an important link in the overall national plan because of its outstanding People Trails system and a biker-friendly approach to transportation issues.
In a similar vein, the designation is a link in the local effort to bring visitors into the area through quality-of-life assets that have been decades in the making.
There is no question that the pool of potential visitors in this case is limited to serious bikers. However, by having the county included in an atlas of routes these cyclists can choose from increases the tourist drawing power. The area benefits not only from those who will use the route but also from the potential that will be created when these visitors spread the word about the area’s attractions through word-of-mouth.
The importance of that asset cannot be overstated. While institutional promotional programs such as media advertising and publicity campaigns have been proven magnets for the area, the simple process of a visitor singing the praises of a particular site to family and friends can be tremendously beneficial.
The designation does carry with it some concerns, issues that were raised by County Commissioner Paul Franke. He noted that part of the route through the county would place bikers on State Road 11 for a short distance. The outgoing commissioner questioned whether the designation of that stretch of state highway would pose an inconvenience to motorists and raise safety concerns.
Proponents of the plan noted in response that the proposed national route already has been approved by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation.
That the commissioners gave their blessing to the local route designation can be seen as an acknowledgment of changing attitudes about the place of bicyclists in the national transportation system.
The phenomenal growth in this particular pursuit has changed attitudes to the point where cyclists’ rights are acknowledged on routes that were once the sole domain of motorists.
In order to continue this step forward in making Bartholomew County a bike-friendly area be sustained, it is vital that all who use our thoroughfares be respectful of one another.