NEW PALESTINE – It was one of the first projects Brigette Cook Jones tackled as county tourism director.
When she landed the job early this year, Jones took on the task of helping to promote a newly launched bike route that runs across the state and through Hancock County. She grabbed a camera and headed to New Palestine, where the route winds through Hancock County, to take pictures and interview New Palestine residents and officials about amenities, restaurants and sights bicyclists should visit.
United States Bicycle Route (USBR) 35 is a 360-mile route running north-south through Indiana, including Hancock County. The route has been added to the United States Bicycle Route system in an effort to make the state a more bike-friendly destination, making it one of the first nationally approved and interconnected cycling routes in Indiana.
Through Indiana, USBR 35 begins at the shore of Lake Michigan and concludes on the shore of the Ohio River. It incorporates 16 counties, stretching from LaPorte County in northern Indiana down through Marion, Hancock, Shelby, Bartholomew and Jackson counties, ending at Jeffersonville in Clark County just above the Kentucky border, with views of the Louisville skyline.
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Outside the Hoosier State, the route begins in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, goes through Kentucky and connects to USBR 45 in Louisiana.
USBR 35 and the entire system are being developed to provide an easy-to-follow bicycle route network, said Jay Mitchell, transportation/bike and pedestrian planner for the Indiana Department of Transportation.
Establishing the routes in Indiana allows the state and local communities to leverage the economic, health, environmental and tourism benefits of the growing regional/cross-country bicycling sector, he said.
The country’s bicycle route sysem currently spans more than 12,000 miles of routes in 25 states. Three of the routes criss-cross Indiana, including USBR 50, which also runs through Hancock County along U.S. 40. USBR 50 and USBR 35 connect in Indianapolis.
Initial work on USBR 35 started in 2012. INDOT partnered with advocacy groups such as Bicycle Indiana, the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council and the Indiana Metropolitan Planning Organization, working under the guidance of the Adventure Cycling Association, on the project, Mitchell said.
The American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials approved the USBR 35 project in October 2015, and the route was publicly launched during National Bike Month this past May.
Signage guides cyclists along routes in the USBR system, which utilizes existing paved roads, trails, paths, hard-crushed gravel surfaces, state highways, city streets and county roads, Mitchell said. They do not include mountain bike routes.
Typically, the routes are intended for experienced long-distance bicycle riders who are used to riding on different terrain. Recreational riders who are confident in their abilities and can navigate traffic also will find the routes useful, Mitchell said.
In Hancock County, USBR 35 picks up south along County Road 700W for about 2 miles before turning left on County Road 300S. The route runs 2 miles along County Road 300S before jogging right on County Road 500W toward Shelby County.
New Palestine resident Nancy Tibbett worked with the Hancock County Board of Commissioners and various town and city councils in 2015 to encourage them to pass resolutions needed to establish both routes through Hancock County.
She serves as the executive director of Bicycle Indiana, a nonprofit that promotes safe bicycling across the state and represents the interests and concerns of bicyclists, and said her office often heard from cyclists across the U.S. who were looking for the best routes to traverse Indiana.
Until recently, Indiana was the only state among those surrounding it without any established bike routes, Tibbett said. Launching the routes provides cyclists connectivity throughout the state and to others, she said. The route also gives communities the opportunity to promote tourism.
“It’s another amenity for our state and our local communities,” she said. “People get to see Indiana while exercising.”
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, according to a 2013 report by the League of American Bicyclists. The routes benefit communities because they draw tourists who will likely stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants during stops along their route, they say.
A website, indianausbr35.com, provides information and resources to cyclists.
The website includes general information about the route, information about each county and links to lists of amenities. Maps that cyclists can print to plan their trips are still being developed.
Jones submitted Hancock County’s information for the website, choosing to feature New Palestine’s popular eatery, Frosty Boy, the New Palestine Museum and the historic timber bridge on Bittner Road.
“This is bringing outside money into our county, and that’s what we want for tourism,” she said.
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To learn more about United States Bicycle Route 35 or get route details for the entire route, check these online resources:
indianatrails.com/content/usbr35 (digital map)