Cyclists peddle new Greenbelt bike route
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Ajax Mayor Steve Parish has explored the world in destinations as far-flung as New Zealand — on his bike.
He’s convinced the Toronto region could be one of the world’s great destinations in the growing cycling tourism industry.
Parish was part of a team at the Ontario Bike Summit Tuesday touting a new 600-kilometre Ontario Greenbelt cycling route being developed by the Waterfront Regeneration Trust and Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation.
“This is a great region but the reality is the world doesn’t know we’re a great region. We’re in danger of falling drastically and irrevocably behind our competitors,” said Parish.
The Greenbelt is 728,000 hectares of protected countryside around Toronto that stretches from Rice Lake to the Niagara River.
The still-to-be-named cycling route would open in July 2015. The Greenbelt foundation has given the Waterfront trust about $500,000 to develop a signature cycling route that would help the rural areas around Toronto develop economically and recreationally, said Marlaine Koehler, executive director of the trust.
The money will go into developing signs, downloadable maps and a launch event. The route itself will follow existing quiet, country roads.
“We will end up having this incredible network of multi-use trails and cycling routes. It will begin to put us on the map and offer something that is quite comparable to (Quebec’s) Route verte experience,” said Koehler.
Greenbelt cyclists will see quaint towns, farms selling local produce and breathtaking countryside. The trust is also meeting with regional municipalities to see if their cycling plans can be incorporated in the new signature route.
The bike route will also connect in three to five spots with the Waterfront Trail that follows Lake Ontario from Windsor to Quebec.
But the new route is still being evaluated. “There are a couple of loops we’ve got to figure out,” said Koehler.
In January, the trust will launch a series of seminars for Greenbelt businesses by the Welcome Cyclists Network that helps promote opportunities along bike routes.
A veteran cyclist of the Waterfront Trail, Koehler warns that the Greenbelt will be a hilly route.
“Northumberland County has already staked claims on having the highest grade of the route. They see this as a huge marketing advantage and we happen to know Quebec cyclists love hills,” she said.
One of the next steps will be to bring leaders from key markets such as Quebec and the U.S. to ride the route with the trail builders.
In 2010, two million Canadian visitors went cycling while visiting Ontario, according to the Tourism ministry. They spent $391 million here.
“In Ontario tourism is a big business and bicycle tourism is a growing piece of that,” Tourism Minister Michael Chan told the summit.
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