cycling middle fork john day river

Exploring and Supporting Communities by Bike: Part 2

The Story of Prairie City

Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series that explores the real impact that cycling can have on rural communities.

“We are a poor region.”

I don’t know how many times I heard this. Grant County Commissioner Boyd Britton welcomed our group one evening and boisterously said this with a smile. The director of a local non-profit organization shared this with us. As I browsed through the little businesses in towns, several locals echoed this sentiment.

“We are a poor region. But we are rich in people, history and generosity, and we are so happy to have you here.”

The second half of the tour took us towards the John Day valley. From Meadowbrook Pass, where we camped under big stands of pines, we were scheduled to ride 61 miles to Prairie City and stay the night in a city owned RV Park. However, when we arrived at our second rest stop en route, the crew informed us that our overnight had moved down the way an extra 13 miles in John Day. The thought of 13 more miles, even though they were flat miles, weighed heavily on me. I was also a little bummed that we were passing up Prairie City, a town that is becoming more well known in the cycling scene.

Without knowing too much detail, I can say that there was an oversight on the side of the Prairie City government folks. The reservations were made and signed long ago, but the government powers-that-be goofed, and our group was left with no place to stay for the night. Fortunately, to the kudos of the Bicycle Rides Northwest staff and crew, plans were quickly made for us to stay in John Day. By evening, everyone forgot about the change. Cold beers in hand and hot dinner on the way, riders were happy and excited for the next day.

The next day, I headed up to Prairie City to check out town and chat with the locals. Delights included half a dozen small eateries, a couple of wonderful art galleries and antique shops, a cozy coffee shop and the beautifully restored Hotel Prairie. Every business owner I spoke to (and I went into every business on the main drag), apologized profusely, expressed their dismay at the snafu, thanked me for my business, and hoped that we would all come back some day.

The sentiment that repeated itself throughout the week was that many of the locals want and love cyclists coming to town. They welcome not only road riders, but off-road gravel riders as well, for there are hundreds of miles of scenic gravel roads that beckon the more intrepid rider. John Day resident and retired schoolteacher, Mike Cosgrove is the champion of all things bike in Grant County and knows about virtually every paved and gravel road in the region. “I’m working on attracting families and groups of friends to see this beautiful, little known region by bike. It is an amazing area.”

The remaining two days included more local history, ecology and culture as we explored the Strawberry Mountain Range, the John Day Fossil Beds, and the quaint towns along the way.

Returning back to Spray on the last day, I found that seven days of riding 460 miles left my legs tired and sore, but spending a week in the rural Oregon that I love so much invigorated me. Need a dose of small town Northwest? Do it by bike!

Bicycle Rides Northwest is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide fully supported scenic bicycling adventures to discover the beauty of the Northwest and the heart and soul of it’s communities. http://www.bicycleridesnw.org

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