By Kim Manning, Cedar Falls Tourism and Visitors Bureau
This popular trail system is one of several projects recognized for excellence in the tourism industry at the recent Iowa Tourism Conference.
Located in the Black Hawk County, this unique network of 100+ miles of hard-surfaced, multi-purpose trails began with an idea to convert abandoned railways and borrow pits to a chain-of-lakes and lineal park, and has blossomed into one of the area’s most cherished resources.
An estimated 610,000 people use the trails each year, 17% of whom come from outside of the county. These 103,700 visitors/year spend an estimated $2,592,500. The system includes a unique 10-mile water trail loop that ties together the Cedar River and several lakes. Another substantial segment encompassing Grundy Center, Morrison, Reinbeck, Cedar Falls, and Waterloo is currently under development as a state-sanctioned water trail.
A myriad of single track mountain bike trails are also emerging and weekly Fat Tire Rides are offered throughout the summer. In addition to its unique configuration of loops, a number of other special features exist to make the user’s experience safe and pleasant. Emergency signage provides GPS coordinates improving emergency response times drastically.
A 25-member Trail Patrol rides 300 hours throughout the summer providing maps and personal assistance to visitors on the trails. Since the trails encompass virtually every historical and cultural landmark in the Cedar Valley, this information is shared through a mix of kiosks, interpretive story panels, and maps. This $160,000 project consisting of 78 signs has already received the National Association of Development Organization’s 2010 Excellence in Regional Transportation Award and we fully anticipate it will become a model for other communities.
70,000 trail guides are printed annually and distributed through welcome centers, hotels, parks, and businesses. We also mail them directly to bicycle shops and clubs throughout the Midwest. We regularly attend cycling-related shows and events and provide a major sponsorship to the BikeIowa.com web site. Our friends at Bike Tech, a local bike shop, have developed an exciting mobile app which will help visitors navigate the system and enjoy their visit. We collaborate regularly with representatives from other trails groups around the state, cross-promoting one another and the State of Iowa as the World Capital of Trails. A logo is currently being developed.
Social media created specifically for trails promotion boast 1,280 fans and followers. 17 fun and entertaining videos follow Liza on the Cedar Valley Trails, visiting museums and festivals, dining, and even shopping for bike pants! These videos have been viewed over 3,712 times. We presented this marketing concept at the 2011 Iowa Bike Summit and again at the Mid American Trails and Greenways Conference in Indiana in October of 2011.
The planning, construction, maintenance, and marketing of such as expansive system required a good deal of collaboration, which, thankfully, can be found in abundance in the Cedar Valley. An annual festival features events including bicycling, dog walking, running, and paddling. We even take seniors out in vans for a cruise so they can also gain an appreciation for this outstanding attraction. A popular feature of the festival is the 9-mile candlelit ride through the woods.