By R. Scott Belzer
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — The London-Laurel County Tourist Commission, in conjunction with about 50 other local community leaders, was recently awarded funds to make Laurel County more cycling friendly.
The $5,000 grant comes through the Kentucky Department for Public Health’s Healthy Communities and Trail Town programs. The money will be used for a cycling kiosk at the Laurel County Farmers Market on Main Street, bicycle racks at the Farmers Market and other locations on Main Street, and approximately 250 cycling trail markers throughout Laurel County by April.
The 10 by 16 ft. kiosk at the Farmers Market will feature maps, turn-by-turn directions, brochures and QR codes. The QR codes will allow cyclists to download information to smart phones and GPS devices.
“Many cyclists have smart phones and GPS. QR codes (will alert) cyclists to restaurants, public water fountains, and photo opportunities along the way,” said Rodney Hendrickson, co-executive director of the London-Laurel Tourist Commission. “They will have a tremendous amount of information.”
Laurel County will make history in having the first cycling routes officially designated by the Kentucky Department of Transportation. Markers will be placed at three-mile intervals and each turn along the route.
The Tourist Commission also plans to erect about 25 “Share the Road” signs along already established cycling trails with help from the Kentucky Department of Transportation. London Downtown, the Mountain Heritage Artisans Guild, and City of London are also aiding the Tourist Commission in having a local artist paint a mural close to the new kiosk at the Farmers Market.
Laurel County alone brings in an estimated 1,600 cyclists per year. This is in large part due to the annual Redbud Ride, which has grown from 26 participants in 2008 to 1,153 in 2013. The event has gained much exposure from being named Active.com’s 2011 “Best Century Ride in America.”
Close on its heels is the Thriller Bicycle Ride every October, which has had a turnout of 135-180 cyclists from five states since its inception.
Community advocates hope to increase the number of cyclists in Laurel County to 3,000 per year. Supporters also hope the activities result in 335 miles of safe road bike routes, making the sport more accessible to Laurel, Rockcastle and Jackson County citizens and visitors.
“My wife and I have been to Michigan, Canada, all over the eastern United States. We have roads that compare favorably,” Hendrickson said. “We want to promote cycling for local residents and advertise that we have safe, low traffic roads.”
Local cyclists like Cumberland Valley Cycling Club president Drayer Spurlock feel that the recently awarded features are a step in the right direction.
“We have a big, untapped draw, even as far as central and northern Indiana,” Spurlock said. “We have all these non-windy and flat roads and beautiful scenery. It will be great not only for tourism, but for people in Laurel County, Barbourville, and Pineville who aren’t tapped into the cycling community.”
For more information, call Rodney Hendrickson at the London-Laurel Tourist Commission at (606) 878-6900 or visit londonkycycling.com.