The News-Press, 9/13/2018
by Ken Gooderham
That is painfully clear when the nearshore waters are not, as has been the case this summer after the one-two punch of blue-green algae and a robust red tide bloom put our local economy back on its heels. Visitors and residents alike were driven from our beaches and shorelines by the dangerous outbreaks, the vile smell and the tons of dead fish washing or floating ashore.
What’s the long-term impact? Hopefully, not much – IF the waters start to clear and stay that way, and IF steps are taken to prevent such outbreaks from recurring in the near future, and IF the visitors and part-time residents repelled by the wretched water can be convinced to give our region one more try.
Unfortunately, after a number of algae outbreaks back to back, some former visitors may decide to turn their back on our coasts and waterways – and that’s not good for business and, eventually, all of us.
So, besides redoubling our commitment to clean up this mess – which is still going to take years, even if every plan in the works was fully funded tomorrow – we may need to look at other ways to bring visitors back to Southwest Florida.
We’ve already spent a lot on baseball, both spring training and amateur events. But people drawn to the diamonds need something to do when the games aren’t playing. If they are afraid to go to the beach or to fish local waters, what else is there?
Why not cycling?
Look around the state. A lot of other areas have plunged into the pedaling market, not just building bike lanes and shared-use paths to get from here to there but also putting together trails where bicycling becomes the main attraction and not just a convenience. They’ve invested in trails where cyclists can ride all day – or over many days – to see the wonders of our state up close and personal from the saddle of their bike.
But when you look over the state’s trail network, Southwest Florida is noticeably absent. Sure, we have Sanibel, which earns its due as a cycling destination with an island-wide network. Soon, one expects, Cape Coral will join that list as its bike infrastructure grows. And, slowly, there are individual trails being put in place around the region that expand the cycling options in that area.
There has even been talk about a more concerted effort to string together existing piecemeal trails into a more substantial route – either stretching along the coast or further inland. That talk is appreciated, but action would be appreciated even more.
Other areas have figured out that bike tourism brings in business, that people will pay to stay, eat, drink and more as they ride along a formally designated route. They’ve seen that connecting places for biking makes a connection with visitors who want to have a safe and interesting place to ride.
Why haven’t we?
We have the perfect climate (at least for half to two-thirds of the year) and the perfect albeit boring terrain (flat). And we have a lot of places that could easily be connected for biking by using existing roads or rights-of-way.
Imagine a trail that could take riders from Sanibel’s island network to the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. Or one that tied together our coastal cities from Naples northward to Sarasota. Even a cross-state trail that could do for South Florida what the Coast-to-Coast Trail is striving for in the middle of the state.
I’d even settle for a trail that took cyclists from one part of Lee County to the other safely, building off our existing network to extend the cycling reach a little farther. Include in that a recommitment to making more of our roadways “complete” – with space for all the users to safely travel – and we might have something to talk about, something that adds to our potential allure to tourists who’ve seen too many images of dying waters and dead sea life lately.
Is that going to bring the wary visitor back? We don’t know for sure.
But if this area doesn’t continue to diversify its tourism offerings as well as clean up its messes, our economy will still be held hostage any time something goes wrong with our bread-and-butter attractions of sand, surf and sunshine.
Cycling is working in other areas. Maybe we should try it – and try harder – here.
Ready to ride or run?Run? Not much on the calendar until October, so this is a good time to fine-tune your training to be ready when the rash of 5K and other runs finally arrive.
Ride? Due to a quirk of the calendar, the only Critical Mass ride in sight is the NE Lee event on Friday night. Lights required for night rides, helmets recommended for all; details at http://www.meetup.com/Biking-SWFL/events/. You can also join the no-drop Wakey, Wakey! Sunday morning ride leaving from Fort Myers Trek. The ride is sanctioned by the Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club, so helmets are required, no ear buds, and no aero bar use while in the group.
Both? Upcoming events include:
- Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 15-16: Galloway Captiva Tri, with the kids’ events (three age groups) Saturday and the sprint tri Sunday. (captivatri.org)
- Saturday, Sept. 22: (“The Original”) Siesta Key Sprint Triathlon, Siesta Key (trifind.com)
- Sunday, Nov. 18: Longboat Key Triathlon & Duathlon, sprint and Olympic tris, sprint and Olympic duathlon. Longboat Key Club & Resort (longboatkeytriathlon.com)
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RIDE:Have a favorite route you like to bike, or a unique walk you’d like to share with others? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org, and maybe we can feature it in an upcoming column.
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Ken Gooderham writes this on behalf of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County — streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at www.BikeWalkLee.org.