Georgian Bay Cycling Route
In May 2014, the Waterfront Regeneration Trust (WRT) accepted an invitation from the Georgian Bay Cycling Route (GBCyR) Steering Committee to lead the initiative with the goal of adding the 1,000 km Route to the Waterfront Trail and extending the partnership to include communities along the Route. The expansion would help fulfill the Trust's vision and mandate to create a Great Lakes Waterfront Trail. The next step involves the WRT consulting with the GBCyR communities and other stakeholders to introduce its partnership model and implementation plans while continuing discussions with MTO about three gaps in the existing infrastructure.
The Georgian Bay Cycling Route (GBCyR) will be a 1,000 kilometre, signed Signature Cycling Route around Georgian Bay that connects communities around the Bay to develop the region's cycling tourism potential. The idea of the route came from the Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA) with the initial route researched by Denis Baldwin. Working with the LaCloche Manitoulin Business Assistance Corporation (LAMBAC), MICA established a volunteer steering committee chaired by LAMBAC to oversee a feasibility study for the route. The Study was conducted by Transportation Options and the Resource Management Consulting Group. Funding for the study was provided by FedNor, the Province’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Feasibility Study Findings
- 65 representatives of municipalities, tourism organizations, health units and cycling clubs participated in workshops held in Little Current, Sudbury, Parry Sound, Gravenhurst, Midland, Collingwood, Owen Sound and Wiarton or were interviewed by telephone.
- Support in the Region for the GBCyR is strong. Over 58 letters of support for the concept were received.
- Of the 1,000 km proposed route, 800 km is ready to be implemented, that is, mapped, signed and promoted.
- The section between Parry Sound and Sudbury requires the Ministry of Transportation's support and leadership to close two gaps to create a continous alignment. A third gap exists along HWY 17 by the Spanish River Bridge.
- An organization is needed to establish and manage a community partnership co-ordinate route implementation, promotional activities and funding--the Waterfront Regeneration Trust was identified as an excellent candidate for the role.
The GBCyR has been planned, in conjunction with local municipalities, to follow existing trails and roads as close to Georgian Bay as possible. It will allow cyclists to enjoy the beauty of the region, as well as views and access to the shoreline. In some places, the GBCyR goes right along the shore, in others it is a considerable distance back from the bay, traversing farmland, forest or the rocky terrain of the Canadian Shield. The GBCyR connects the culture, heritage and lifestyles of 35+ communities around Georgian Bay with two UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves, two National Parks, 15 Provincial Parks and includes a Chi-Cheemaun ferry crossing to Manitoulin Island. Eight hundred kilometers of the GBCyR is implementation-ready, from Town of Parry Sound, south around Georgian Bay to the City of Greater Sudbury. In two places, alternative routes have been provided:
- Muskoka District – For cyclists with time, Core Route B (62 km) offers a longer, scenic ride along the shore of Georgian Bay Township towards Honey Harbour, than the more direct Core Route A.
- Manitoulin Island – For cyclists who want to experience the interior of the Island. The Core B Route (83 km) offers a scenic ride into the heart of Manitoulin Island
Completion of the final 200 km between Sudbury and Parry Sound, will require support of the Ontario government and Ministry of Transportation to find a route. In light of the Ontario Government's 2013 #CycleOn Strategy, the GBCyR Steering Committee has initiated meetings with the Ministry of Transportation to investigate opportunities to make the GBCyR a complete loop around Georgian Bay. The proposed GBCyR has been mapped in MapMyRide, and an overview map is shown here. For a brief description of the gaps, click here.
- Owned and maintained by the communities along the route and incorporated into their asset management plans
- Promoted as a provincial tourism asset and attraction
- Benefit cyclists, cycle tourists and local businesses and municipalities in the region
- Link together the growing network of designated bicycle routes in the Georgian Bay region
- Create a signature cycling route, to strengthen Ontario’s positioning as a cycling destination.
Benefits of the Georgian Bay Cycling Route
Communities along the GBCyR are very supportive of the GBCyR because the infrastructure investment would be low and the benefits would be substantial.
- Creates a 1000 km high-profile bicycle route that is suitable for a wide variety of cyclists,
- Support the communities’ ongoing initiatives related to Active Transportation, off-road cycling trails, paved shoulders and designated on-road cycling routes, and
- Help communities set priorities for cycle route/trail development and enhancement.
Many destination marketing/management organizations and tourism businesses along the GBCyR are currently investing in cycle tourism product development to attract more visitors, increase their length of stay and increase visitor spending. The GBCyR aligns with these ongoing cycle tourism initiatives because it will:
- Help communities meet the growing demand for safe cycle tourism by expanding the opportunities for recreational, experienced and touring cyclists;
- Be a new product that aligns with tourism positioning of the community destination marketing organizations: active, outdoor recreational experiences;
- Link many of the existing tourism attractions along Georgian Bay, providing an alternative to car transportation and a fresh way to market tourism attractions; and
- Complement and further promote the communities and tourism businesses already participating in the Ontario By Bike Network (formerly the Welcome Cyclists Network).
The GBCyR aligns with #CycleON, the new Ontario government strategy to encourage the growth of cycling and improve the safety of people who cycle across the province. It will help Ontario residents reap the benefits identified in the #CycleON strategy:
- Improved personal and public health for residents and visitors to the region,
- Cleaner environment by providing an alternative to road transportation for residents and visitors,
- New tourism product to meet the growing demand for cycling experiences, and
- New business opportunities to service residents and visiting cyclists.
At 1000 km, GBCyR has the potential to become Ontario’s third signature cycling route and the second-longest route in the province. Its length and concept aligns with Ontario’s two longest cross regional, signed routes: the Waterfront Trail (1400 km) and the Ontario Greenbelt Cycling Route (450 km, to be launched 2015).
I was travelling home to the Island from Southern Ontario a few days ago, and my heart was pining for the drive on Old Hwy 69 between Parry Sound and Sudbury where we followed shorelines and became familiar with small settlements like Bigwood and Estaire and Britt, and family run businesses of the most interesting character. The new Hwy is fast and safe, but we are certainly losing some of the distinct characteristics of Northern Ontario. Perhaps a cycling route will find its place among these disappearing but important outposts.
Ron Berti, President
Manitoulin Tourism Association