When Turtle Bay Exploration Park leaders went looking for a partner to develop and operate a hotel next to the Redding museum, they found an eager partner in San Diego-based Azul Hospitality Group.
Azul, which runs destination resorts and hotels, simply couldn’t pass up the location at what Azul President and CEO Richard Mansur calls “a tremendous trailhead.” To take advantage of the proximity to the Sacramento River Trail, which links to other paved and dirt recreation pathways west and north of Redding, Azul intends to offer bikes for rent and shuttle services for people who would like to pedal from, say, Shasta Dam to the Sundial Bridge.
“What can be done there is to have biking as part of an overall action sports plan, along with flyfishing, boating and other things,” Mansur said. “We plan on leveraging every advantage of the biking infrastructure that is in place. We’d like to make it an economic engine for the hotel, and for Redding.”
Azul has successfully employed a similar strategy at two Southern California hotels, but the Redding location “has the most potential,” Mansur said.
The 130-room hotel is not a certainty, and there are strong feelings of opposition. But Mansur and Turtle Bay leaders insist that Redding could do more to cash in on its burgeoning recreational trail system, a system that invites bike rides of many types and distances.
“I think we’re doing bits and pieces, but there is not a concerted effort that I see to promote bike riding,” said Mike Warren, president and CEO of Turtle Bay and former Redding city manager. “I think we’re missing the boat. In this age when the Baby Boomers are not playing softball or basketball anymore, we want to ride our bikes.”
An economic building block
While no one claims that Redding could base its economy on bicycles, there are people who see potential for the area to become a destination for active vacationers – and not merely a “gateway” to Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mt. Shasta, the Trinity River and other distant attractions. Those tourists could provide work for people in the hospitality industry (motels, restaurants, nightclubs), the outdoors sector (fishing guides, boat rentals) and retail businesses, including Redding’s six bike shops.
Bob Warren, who heads the Redding Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the nearly 8 million people in the Bay Area and Sacramento regions provide the target market, especially people looking for a two- or three-night getaway during the fall or spring. Warren is currently at work on a detailed, glossy map and brochure that explains the local trail system.
“We’re looking at it becoming one of our major marketing pieces,” Bob Warren said. “One of the great things about Redding is the weather. Redding in the fall, even the winter and spring, has far more sunny days than rainy days.” Plus, noted Warren, even though Redding’s summers are infamously hot, it’s the non-summer months when local hotels run only 60 to 70 percent full.
Bob Warren (no relation to Mike) pointed out that places as diverse as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Moab, Utah, have successfully sold themselves to vacationing cyclists. Redding Mayor Missy McArthur endorses the marketing effort.
“This is how you get people coming here. It’s like Davis. If you make it bike-friendly, people will come here to visit, and then they’ll want to move their families here and move their businesses here,” McArthur said. “It goes back to quality of life.”
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the No. 1 community amenity sought by potential new home buyers is a recreational trail system.
Many miles to go
One question that arises is whether the Redding area has an adequate trail system to keep out-of-town riders – primarily mountain bikers – entertained for more than a couple of days. The Redding area, including Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, offers about 150 miles of trail, including about 25 miles of paved pathway along and near the Sacramento River. Nearly all trails are open to cyclists, in addition to walkers, runners and horseback riders.
That seems like a lot of miles until you consider that mountain biking centers such as Moab, Oakridge, Ore., and Durango, Colo., offer three or four times that amount. Redding-area trail advocates and public agencies continue to plan and build new routes, but it will be decades before Redding can match Oakridge’s system of 50-plus single-track trails covering more than 500 miles.
Bob Boecking, president of Redding Mountain Biking club, said word is out about Redding’s trail system. What the area needs in order to attract more mountain bike visitors, he said, is additional long-distance trails so that riders can go 50 to 75 miles in a day without having to cover the same trail twice. He also said construction of a scenic and/or challenging downhill run (such as something that bombs down Shasta Bally) that would be done as a point-to-point shuttle ride would boost mountain-bike tourism.
“We have some of the best riding in Northern California,” Boecking said. “The only thing we’re lacking is a shuttle-type ride. That’s also keeping us from having some of the bigger race events.”
Every Oakridge tourist, for example, wants to ride the Alpine Trail, a 16-mile track through old-growth forest and meadows that offers big views of the Cascade Mountains. Nearly everyone catches a lift to the trailhead and then rides point-to-point, sometimes adding on side loops.
Finding a niche
The rural Oakridge-Westfir area, approximately 40 miles southeast of Eugene, was hard-hit by the decline in the timber industry. Since the 1990s, locals have sought to remake the area into an outdoor recreation center, especially for mountain bikers.
“Mountain biking is not going to save Oakridge, but it’s a piece of the puzzle,” said Randy Dreiling, president of the Oakridge-Westfir Chamber of Commerce and owner of a mountain bike touring company. “It helps just about every business in town.”
Dreiling said he and others lobby every year for federal funding (nearly all the trails are on national forest land) to pay for trail construction and maintenance, and for trailhead kiosks and bathrooms. He is also quick to credit state of Oregon and Lane County tourism officials, and local trail advocacy groups for the area’s progress.
“It’s a slow process, it’s slow growth,” Dreiling said. “I would work with the mountain biking club down there, if I was Redding. I would market it for some nice fall and spring riding.”
Warren, of the Redding Convention and Visitors Bureau, certainly agrees on advertising the shoulder seasons. However, he sees the big market as not the hardcore mountain bikers or road cyclists who ride for hours and hours, but as “the casual rider who doesn’t want to go 30 miles a day.”
Whether visitors ride for an hour or all day, there’s little question they spend money. According to Warren, the average Redding visitor spends $123 per day. Thus, a couple visiting for the weekend brings about $500 into the local economy. And a good trail system stimulates local economic activity, as well. A study of trails in Orange County, Florida, by the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council found, “The average spending per trail user is $20 per visit, representing food and beverages, transportation, books and maps, bike maintenance, rentals and more.”
Trail and cycling advocates say that building connections from the Sacramento River Trail to Redding’s commercial centers would boost business – especially a trail from Turtle Bay to downtown Redding, and especially if the Turtle Bay hotel goes forward. Terry Hansen, who has led the city of Redding’s trail construction efforts, talks about a new multi-use trail that would run from the river trail near the Diestelhorst Bridge, along the railroad tracks, to about Library Park in downtown.
“Businesses along trails can really benefit,” said Pam Gluck, executive director of the group American Trails. “I’d like to see more of that around here.”
Road cycling, and Redding in general, could get a major boost if it manages to achieve one thing that everyone seems to be talking about: the Amgen Tour of California bike race. Bob Warren said the Visitors and Convention Bureau has exhibited at the race for the past three years, and the city will bid to host a piece of the 2013 race. Race officials are noncommittal about future routes, but Warren said cities such as Modesto and Clovis in the San Joaquin Valley have been awarded race stages simply because they were well organized.
The Tour of California is the second largest bike race in the country and draws tens of thousands of spectators – many of them cyclists – to stage starts and finishes. Redding boosters dream of 200 colorfully clad racers starting the event on the Sundial Bridge before circling town and then heading into the foothills on country roads and highways for a stage that eventually ends in downtown Chico.
Paul Shigley is a freelance journalist based in Western Shasta County, Calif., and wouldn’t dream of missing the Gold Cup. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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