May is bike month in Iowa and in order to gear up for the season, local promoters have chosen April 10 for a day-long conference on generating tourism dollars and cultural capital from the Raccoon River Valley Bike Trail and High Trestle Trail.

Sponsored by the City of Perry, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the Common THREAD group, the conference will convene at the Hotel Pattee in Perry and feature lectures, panel discussions and break-out sessions on capitalizing on the trails.

The conference is called, "Bike Trail Tourism – Getting More out of Your Trail." It will feature planners, policy makers and successful entrepreneurs from along central Iowa trails and other economically thriving trail systems around the country. The experts will share strategies on exploiting the development potential of the trail network.

"Capturing more economic benefit from our trails is the focus of this conference," said Jim Miller of Waukee, board member of the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association (RRVTA) and one of the conference organizers.

"We’re really fortunate to have the RRVT and the High Trestle trail go through our communities here in central Iowa," said Miller. "This conference was developed to help towns on the trail get more out of this valuable new community asset. Our primary audience is local leaders of towns on the trail, trying to give them ideas and strategies to get more economic benefit from bike trails."

The Thursday conference will begin at 9 am with an opening presentation from Michael Gould of the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Gould is himself an avid biker who will share development ideas for each community on the trail and discuss increasing opportunities for bikers to spend money in trail towns.

Four panels composed of local and regional experts will make presentations and lead discussions on a variety of topics.

A morning session will explore the best practices for businesses on the trail, including food and beverage vending, bike shops and services, historical and cultural sites and lodging. Ideas for starting and growing trail-centered businesses will also be considered, with a focus on ways to capture sales to trail users.

Another session will focus on local way-finding and on developing improved local signage, which is crucial to helping direct trail users to local restaurants, bars, bike shops and other destinations. The discussion will also explore ways to create loops into trail towns from the main trail, another way to get more travelers into towns.

"We’re really excited to host this conference," said Jay Hartz, owner and general manager of the Hotel Pattee, who targets bike-trail users as his most desired marketing demographic. "One of our strategies to grow our business is to focus on bike trail users and do all we can to give them a great experience when they eat a meal here or stay overnight with us."

Public art on the bike trail is another key element in the overall experience of trail users. The challenge one of the afternoon sessions will address lies in creating less directly commercial reasons for trail users to visit trail towns. The panel will consider each community’s local assets and suggest ways to market them as a bundle of cultural resources and assets.

The afternoon will also feature a session on the best practices for attracting bike-riding consumers by using technology, such as social media, websites, mobile devices and apps and code readers.

Conference sponsors include the Center for Town/Craft, which is a collaboration between Perry and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and Common THREAD, a consortium of towns on the Raccoon River Valley and High Trestle Trails. THREAD stands for tourism, health, recreation, education, arts and development.

"The object is to announce local events and market the trail towns," said Alan Vandehaar, project manager of the ISU Center for Town/Craft, housed in the former First National Bank building in Perry. "We want to promote opportunities for communities to explore their options going forward," he said.

The Raccoon River Valley Trail is an 89-mile-long paved trail built on abandoned railway right of ways that follows branches of the Raccoon River through Greene, Guthrie and Dallas Counties. Towns on the trail include Jefferson, Cooper, Herndon, Yale, Panora, Linden, Redfield, Adel, Waukee, Dallas Center, Minburn, Perry, Dawson and Jamaica.

The High Trestle Trail is a 25-mile trail running through Polk, Story, Boone and Dallas Counties, with trail towns including Woodward, Madrid, Slater, Sheldahl and Ankeny. It is notable for the half-mile-long, 150-foot-tall bridge connecting Woodward and Madrid over the Des Moines River.

Conference registration is $20, which includes lunch and all conference materials. Pre-registration is required by April 7. Make checks payable to City of Perry. Send your pre-registration to: City of Perry, Attn: Bike Conf., PO Box 545, Perry, IA 50220. For more information contact, Alan Vandehaar, ISU Extension, 515-231-6513, or Butch Niebuhr, City of Perry, 515-465-2481, from Page 1