October 23, 2021

Tourism on 2 wheels

Cortland County offers scenic attractions for cyclists

Michael McCleary/contributing photographer

Matt Hollenbeck of Virgil bikes Friday along Pendleton Street Extension in Cortlandville. Hollenbeck is an avid cyclist and often participates in bike tours by doing week-long self-supported bike tours across the state and in other states.

Dr. Doug Rahner started cycling when he was a teenager and kept it up until he became an adult. He began doing it a lot less, then really not at all, until he started again 14 years ago.

“I got more serious about it,” he said. He participates in events like the Bon Ton Roulet; he stops by farm stands and businesses on his rides; he takes day trips. His hobby, perhaps without his realizing it, has turned him into a bicycle tourist.

Matt, Hollenbeck of Virgil and owner of Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill, is an avid cyclist. He loves taking in the scenic view Cortland County has to offer. Friday, he biked the hills of Pendleton Street Extension in Cortlandville, where if he headed toward the city he could see the valleys, farms and homes in the county.

Bike tourism has four main categories, which can overlap, according to the Adventure Cycling Association, a non-profit with the goal of getting more people cycling. All of them can help a community like the greater Cortland area make money.

They are:
• Bicycle travel or touring — independently organized, multi-day tours.
• Events — any organized ride, tour or race.
• Destination riding — going to a particular destination or attraction.
• Day rides and urban cycling — a day trip to a nearby attraction.

Rahner is getting ready to participate in The Bon Ton Roulet for the 14th year.

The event is a seven-day fundraising event put on by the YMCAs of Auburn and Cortland that sends cyclists through Cortland to Aurora, Trumansburg, Watkins Glen, Geneva, Auburn and back to Cortland. It draws anywhere from 300 to 500 people.

“People come from over 30 states and several countries,” he said. “It’s a great event not only for the Y, but it helps area businesses. When people arrive early they stay in area hotels.”

They also eat at restaurants, shop at stores and partake in other activities. It’s an economic benefit on wheels.

“It also presents Cortland County in a favorable light,” he said. “Most of these people have a disposable income and they can come in and spend money and people talk about what a great time they’ve had.”

Hollenbeck often spends money at gas stations, food stands, stores and any place he can lay his head at night when he’s out on his week-long bike tours. He’s done destination rides to places like Washington, D.C., while other times he’s toured New York, visiting Whiteface Mountain or the Adirondacks.

And as a business owner Hollenbeck is all for bike tourism. Hollenbeck’s is the site host of an annual Spring Classic bike race by the Finger Lakes Cycling Club, which brings people to Virgil who then end up stopping to eat or buy items from places like Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill.

“As a business owner, I love seeing people arrive on bikes,” he said. “They don’t take up parking spaces, cause no wear and tear on the parking lot, and they show up hungry.”

Great scenery and more

The county has the potential to do a lot with bike tourism, Rahner said. The roads are in pretty good shape, there’s little heavy traffic and lots of paths to take and attractions people may not always think about: “Farm stands and things of that nature.”

“What I’d love to see is for the county to really capitalize on some of the great scenery,” he said, particularly the Tioughnioga River.

“I think if there was a bike path and some money to put into that you could have some development along that bike path,” he said.

So what does Cortland County do and what does it have to offer for future bike tourism attractions? Quite a bit, from the scenery to the arts, but people say the community can look at offering more amenities to bring more cyclists.

Tourism options developed

The county does offer a branch of bike tourism, said Meghan Lawton, the executive director of the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We do have some unique opportunities for people who do like to bike,” she said. “These are go-at-your-own bike tours. On our website, there is different biking and hiking trails and they are on the regional Finger Lakes website.”

One of the options she mentioned was people can do downhill mountain biking at Greek Peak Mountain Resort in Virgil.

However, she doesn’t rule out other bike tourism ideas like what is done in the Finger Lakes region, where people can take tours that stop at businesses and specific areas along the way.

“Obviously the winery tours wouldn’t work for us, but I think there’s other potential areas that we could go,” Lawton said.

“The way we market our bike trails is that it’s about the biking itself not going from winery to winery,” she said. “It’s more so taking in the scenic beauty of Cortland County.”

Want more? Offer more

To attract the multi-day tours like the wine trail events, destinations can offer more healthy eating, vegan and vegetarian options, upscale shopping and pleasant downtowns, said Anne Fleming, who operates Carolina Tailwinds in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The company, which Fleming has run with Greg Fleming since 2001, offers high-end tours. The six-day, five-night packages cost between $2,295 and $2,395 per person. The Flemings have offered two or three of these tours in July for the past 12 years, Anne Fleming said.

Her clients are looking for a few basic things in places they stop: walkable downtowns, several fine dining locations offering healthy and specialized fare, and upscale, boutique lodging.

The tour loop starts in Ithaca, runs through Watkins Glen, heads north through Geneva, Seneca Falls, Auburn and Skaneateles.

The tour then stops in Skaneateles for a layover day, when the cyclists can choose from a range of things to do. Some may — and have — chosen to head south to Homer.

This is where Cortland County has an opportunity to attract this particular tour, Fleming said. Her clients are looking for a healthy lunch, and an increasing number desire vegan and vegetarian options.

Partners stand ready

Eateries also have another opportunity to attract the tour: When it heads south to Ithaca, it typically passes through Moravia and Locke.

Other tour groups can also find a range of restaurants to stop in almost every town in the county, said Tammy Timmerman, president of the Cortland County Tavern and Restaurant Association.

“You have a very diverse group of restaurants in Cortland,” she said, pointing to Pita Gourmet (Middle Eastern), the Community Restaurant (Greek), Wild Ginger Asian Fusion (Asian), and several Italian restaurants.

She also pointed to the Three Little Birds Cafe, which offers gluten-free and vegetarian options, as well as Dasher’s Corner Pub in Homer and Three Bear Inn in Marathon.

Tour operators “looking to put together any specific package” would find ready partners in the owners of Cortland area restaurants, she said.

After go, stop and do

Cyclists are looking for more than a snack and a view, though. They want to do things.

Ty Marshal, the executive director of Homer Center for the Arts, said tourists in cars can sometimes miss what a community has to offer. They’re going too fast.

With the addition of new bike trails and the creation of a bike-friendly environment, which Marshal has seen more of an effort from the city of Cortland recently, the arts community in the greater Cortland area can receive a similar boost.

“There’s a big difference between driving a car through a village or a town or a city than there is a bike,” Marshal said. “You can see more.”

Bicyclists can ride to Dwyer Park in Preble for a show by the Cortland Repertory Theatre, can stop by Frog Pond Farm for an art gallery and take a visit to the CNY Living History Center. Routes 281 and 11 are a path to many of the art destinations in the community, Marshal said, and Homer has started planning a river trail between Homer and Cortland along the Tioughnioga River. It’s a safely navigable area and the access to storefronts, shops and places to eat makes a trail an attractive option.

Crystal Lyon, who was the artist for the Cortland Corset mural and restoration project, said the city of Cortland received a $200,000 grant for the Crown City Artworks project, a part of the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The city plans a number of new art initiatives. Lyon, who is on the city planning commission, said another initiative remains open to public comment to make the city of Cortland one of five communities to become part of a Central New York art district.

“It encourages people to stay longer,” Lyon said.

The Dwyer Park pavilion facelift will touch up one of the greater Cortland area’s concert venues and there are plans to paint old train cars in the park. On Main Street, Cortland, the city is selecting artwork for vacant storefronts. As bicyclists stroll through the communities, Marshal said bicycle tours can only be positive.

“Considering that tourism is an economic generator,” Marshal said, “it can only work the the benefit of our local organizations and businesses.”

Staff reporters Shenandoah Briere and Travis Dunn and intern Michael McCleary contributed to this report.