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Pedaling Through History

At a very nice 4th of July BBQ I happened to be asked if I knew about creating historic bike tours. No, not tours on historic bikes (not sure that penny-farthing would be suitable for riding long distances…) but a tour around local history done on bike. And I had no idea. I had been on historic bike tours as part of National Trust conferences but did not know of any local examples right off the top of my head.

So, in true preservation partner fashion, I asked. Posting to the Massachusetts Historic Preservation List Serve and the Massachusetts History Alliance List Serve, I asked for any information on how to put together an historic bike tour and examples of people who have done it. Why reinvent the wheel? (pun intended).

The response was truly remarkable. Several communities have created bike tours that highlight local history, some are put on by historic societies, land trusts or other organizations. Some are stand alone tours while others are part of larger events like conferences. The theme can vary, depending on where the bike route goes and what stories will be pointed out along the way. Tours can take advantage of existing rail-trails and other bike routes in the area.

They do also require a lot of planning besides theme. Route and distance are key factors, along with making sure you take as many right hand turns as possible to avoid traffic issues. Knowing the audience, more dedicated cyclists vs. more dedicated history enthusiasts will change the tenor (and length) of the tour, along with figuring out how to convey the stories you want to share without stopping every block or so.

One very cool example of history-themed bike routes is the Western New England Greenway. The Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area has worked to create bike routes that connect New York City to Montreal. The Western New England Greenway connects relevant historic, natural and cultural attractions along the way. It also connects with the East Coast Greenway, a route that connects Key West to Maine!

On the WNE Greenway’s website, you can see each section of the route, and where it goes through Western Massachusetts (sections 2 and 3). The map shows the routes, attractions, and the digital map feature also shows lodging, natural sites, cultural and performing arts sites, historic sites and more! The route was specifically chosen to utilize low-speed, low volume roadways and dedicated bike and pedestrian paths that connect to historic sites along the route.

What Upper Housatonic Heritage has done is tremendous and a great experience for those wanting to bike an entire region! For smaller, more community-based tours, there were lots of great examples, from Cambridge, Somerville, Sunderland, to Deerfield and Franklin. Many were willing to share their experiences and thoughts so if anyone is curious on how to create an historic bike tour, feel free to contact our office and we’ll share what we learned and continue to learn about this great local history tool. As one history advocate put it “#learnlocal”.

For more information on the Western New England Greenway, click here:

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