ONE OF THE reasons many of us chose to make the North Olympic Peninsula our home is our Big Back Yard — the hundreds of thousands of acres of the Olympic National Park, miles of beaches, beautiful county and city parks and the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT) all come to mind.
These features of our Pacific Northwest life are also what draw thousands of visitors to our region every year, and the wave of bicycle tourists is growing every year thanks to the hard work of our Trails Coalition, the folks who make the ODT a reality.
As someone who turned to cycling to better my health and reduce my weight, I became not only dependent on the ODT as a safe option (I’m a little clumsy and crashing in traffic sounds like something I’d rather avoid) but also became one of the ODTs biggest fans.
I could ride for miles through farms, along the shore, above the banks of Lake Crescent, all safely off the highways and narrow shoulders of county roads. Along the way, I could see wildlife, horses with riders, people walking their dogs (sometimes cats!) and lots of folks just enjoying a stroll.
It should come as no surprise to any of us that something as special as the ODT would draw in new waves of tourists year after year. And, with the Trails Coalition expanding those off-road miles every year, this growth in number of users will continue. Cycling tourism is on the rise.
In 2022, we had several bicycle tour groups bring hundreds of riders across the Peninsula, mostly riding the ODT. One group was so large they set up their camps at our local fairgrounds as they moved east to west, then back again.
This year, during Memorial Day Weekend, the Northwest Tandem Rally comes back to the Peninsula for the first time in more than 20 years, and to Sequim for the first time ever.
This event is bringing more than 500 riders of tandem and solo bicycles (about 275 bikes) to our region for three nights, some of whom will have not been to Sequim before.
This ride is headquartered at Carrie Blake Park but will send riders out on routes both east and west of town, and the most advanced of them will be riding as many as 50 miles out before looping back to their base for the weekend. Some are camping; many are staying in local hotels.
This busy weekend of cyclists is just the beginning of what promises to be a busy tourist season. Many of our neighbors look at this negatively, finding that their favorite walking path or cycling trail areas are so busy they feel pushed out of the way of our guests.
I invite you to think about this differently.
Tourism is an economic pillar for our community. Lodging and sales taxes from our visitors help to fund projects and festivals across our region. These tourists are our guests. They are coming to visit what we are lucky enough to see every day. I don’t think I have once forgotten to look at the mountains on my way to work. For tourists, these views are new or something they look forward to seeing once a year.
While we may find ourselves slightly inconvenienced by the increase in our local population through the summer season and could find our favorite haunts more peopled than we would prefer, let’s show our guests the spirit of the NW when they come. Let’s help them find the wonder we see in our hometowns. We can join in the tourist spirit, and remember all the things that fascinated us, drew us in, when we first visited or relocated to this place. Should you be one of those rare folks who had the amazing opportunity to grow up here, you have so much insight to offer to travelers.
Your Chambers of Commerce across the Peninsula operate visitor centers. We see thousands of tourists come through our doors every year. We set a friendly tone to their visit, share our favorite places with them and offer a warm welcome. We hope you will join us in this welcome as our new guests for 2023 arrive.
Beth Pratt is the executive director of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce.