HANCOCK COUNTY — At the urging of cycling enthusiasts, local officials are taking steps to establish national bike routes through Hancock County.
Two cycling advocacy groups, Hoosier Rails to Trails Council and Bicycle Indiana, have approached local officials in recent weeks about recognizing official national bike routes through the county, an effort they say will support physical fitness while promoting tourism for the area.
The routes, which will run through the entire state, will be a first for Indiana.
Local officials have passed resolutions recognizing bike routes known as United States Bicycle Route No. 50, from Ohio through Central Indiana to Illinois, and USBR No. 35, traveling the length of Indiana from Michigan to Kentucky. The routes will use existing roads and will be promoted with signage.
Citing a 2013 report by the League of American Bicyclists, proponents of the project say the bicycling industry is a growing business in North America that contributes an estimated $47 billion to communities that provide routes for cyclists to use. The routes benefit communities because they draw tourists who will likely stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants, they said.
Representatives from the groups asking for the bike routes told officials Indiana is the only state among those surrounding it without an established bike route. The groups are working to change that.
Officials with Hoosier Rails to Trails and Bicycle Indiana are traveling the state to get support for the bicycle routes, which were started in other states in 1982 to create bike ways that parallel highways and interstates.
The bike routes allow bicyclists who are traveling long distances a safe way to cross the country, officials say.
Proponents of the bike system worked with state highway officials to identify routes through Hancock County.
USBR 50 will enter Greenfield on U.S. 40, divert to Morristown Pike and head toward County Road 500S to enter New Palestine. USBR 35 comes into the county in Cumberland south of U.S. 40, heads east on County Road 300 South, then south on Gem Road.
Town officials will eventually put up signs warning motorists the area has been designated as an official path for bicycle riders to travel; the Indiana Department of Transportation will provide the signs.
It will take time to implement plans for statewide bike routes, said Mario Vian, project representative for Hoosier Rails to Trails.
“But it’s important that we have the proper cooperation of every jurisdiction that this route would go through in order to get approval,” Vian said.
Organizers do not want the routes to run directly through busy Indianapolis streets, so surrounding towns are being sought out as alternatives, Vian said.
Officials say there’s no harm in establishing the routes; it won’t cost cities or towns and money and could create additional revenue from tourists who will use the bike routes.
“People already do it anyway,” said New Palestine Town Council member Larry Jonas. “They’ve been riding through here for quite a few years.”
Nancy Tibbett of Bicycle Indiana said there are benefits to the county, especially in Greenfield, where the east-west route runs along U.S. 40.
“We don’t yet know what the overall impact will be,” she said, “but it will be absolutely useful to local communities.”