Pedaling Bike Culture in Rural Oregon

I didn’t think I would ever find myself in rural Oregon, nestled between the waterfall-speckled Coastal Range and the vineyards of the Willamette Valley. Never the less, here I am, working for the Dallas (not Texas) Downtown Association. If you were not already aware, rural Oregon, even west of the Cascades, is not Portland. While the state is renowned for cycling, both for recreation and commuting, that attribute stalls out just South of the Multnomah County line. In Dallas, which has 15,000 residents, the car is king, even when moving from one end of the picturesque courthouse lawn to the other.

In both pictures, you’ll note that cars are abundant. The moments are rare when a parking space is open between 9 and 5. I also can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I’ve seen a car re-park a few spaces closer to their destination instead of using an active mode of transportation. And no one in town can remember the last time they saw a tourist on a bicycle, despite the large amount of tourism the Willamette Valley receives from cyclists coming to pedal amongst the scenic farmhouses and mill towers.
But this doesn’t have to be the case. And just because a community doesn’t have a cycling culture, doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to create one. In the few months that I’ve been here, I’ve been honored to be part of a transformation in progress, a burgeoning plan to not only make the town for friendly to cyclists, but to use cyclist tourism dollars to stoke the economic engines downtown, and use the moment to rehabilitate a historic building downtown.
The idea to capitalize off of bike culture and cycle tourism had been floating around for a while, but I’m proud to say that during my time here, a plan has been put into gear (pun intended). As a former bike commuter (I walk to work now), I brought my experience and background to my position, and act as a bridge between downtown business owners and the biking community in the region. I started going to the meetings of cycling organizations, including the coalitions of neighboring bike-friendly communities of Independence, Monmouth, Salem, and Corvallis. I helped put together plans to make Dallas more bike friendly with some local business owners, and tagged on to a team getting businesses and the city bike-friendly certified with the state of Oregon. While it is still early in my involvement, it has been rewarding, and I feel like we’re making progress, with a bike valet and a set of bike racks already in the works.
So what was the big catalyst to this change of heart? One word: Gooseneck. A massive mountain biking project that is slated to open in three years. Formerly a logging area, the BLM land is being transformed into a system of trails that will be truly unrivaled in scope. It is expected to bring in large amounts of tourists, and Dallas will be the closest town to the project. This presents a do or die economic proposition to our community: will we be able to capitalize on Gooseneck, or will we lose out to our neighboring communities again?

We started applying for the Main Street Revitalization grant to turn the upper floors of a downtown Victorian jewel into a bike hostel. During the process, local cyclists have started talking about their experience biking in Dallas, and looking toward the future. Assuming it moves forward, it will include more than a dozen beds, an elevator, a community space for biking associations to meet and have events, and earthquake-proofing the building. The grant, which one of the key grants distributed through the Oregon Main Street program, would be a key part of financing the project and requires excessive community support. The biking coalitions that I’ve been in contact with are coming to town later this month to see the project, and weighing whether to write letters of support to help us in our endeavors, for the good of the region, even if it means they lose a few cyclists to Dallas.
At this moment, it seems like Dallas is turning the page toward a cycle-happy future. Working across lines of difference to create a cozy bike-friendly atmosphere downtown has been the highlight of my service so far, and I look forward to that trend continuing into the future. Next step? I’m planning on facilitating a Dallas biking group in my spare time, comprised of mountain bikers and road cyclists, that can meet downtown and advocate for themselves, long after I’ve moved on from my temporary little home.

A bit about the author, Gabriel Leon:

  • Currently serving as Program Manager for the Dallas Downtown Association
  • Gabriel earned a Bachelor of Science in Geography and Urban Planning from Arizona State University
  • People may be surprised when they learn that I don’t like to surprise people. I present myself honestly.

Six Lessons from Reopening a Public Library

When the Douglas County Library System closed in 2017, it left eleven holes in eleven towns. While still nicknamed “The Timber Capital of the Nation”, dwindling funds from timber revenue had tightened wallets in the Douglas County government, putting library funding on the chopping block. In a last-ditch effort to keep the libraries open, a ballot measure proposing a property tax increase was put to the vote. The community soundly voted against it.

The collapse of the library system made its way through local, state, and national news. Many questioned the purpose of libraries in today’s world, arguing that Amazon and digital technology have made their place in society obsolete. Many more were shocked at the thought that residents of a county the size of Connecticut would be left without library services.

In the year that followed the closure, many of the libraries managed to reopen their doors. With little-to-no funding, they relied entirely on volunteers and donations to run. However, the Roseburg branch, which had previously been the main library for the whole county, remained unopened. Behind its doors, the bulk of the materials that had circulated throughout all 11 libraries sat gathering dust on the shelves. It took Roseburg residents passing a city property tax increase, an agreement with the Douglas ESD to convert part of the building into their office space, as well as multiple large donations from state and local foundations, to finally make the library reopening a possibility.

I was thrown headfirst into the library reopening project through the RARE AmeriCorps Program as my first job out of college. I had little knowledge of how libraries were run, much less what it took to start one from the ground up. After 4 months of delays, uncertainty, and buildup, the Roseburg Public Library project was finally completed on January 10, 2019. While I am far from a library professional, my position has granted me insight into an unusual process that few have the opportunity to be a part of. These are the main lessons I have learned so far in my term of service:

  1. Introduce yourself to the key players. Get to know everyone involved in the project, from the construction workers and architects to the library volunteers and old employees. Sit in on meetings even when you don’t understand what is going on, because eventually you will.
  2. Be patient. Sometimes things our out of your hands and happen at their own pace. Be hopeful but realistic about deadlines with yourself and others who rely on you as a source of information.
  3. Speak up. Your ideas are valid, even compared to the ideas of those who are more experienced and older than you. Just because something has always been done this way does not mean it is the best way going forward.
  4. Know when to engage. Everyone has opinions, and many will want to make their opinions heard. When changes have to be made, opinions will sometimes be negative. Don’t take it personally. Strategize by mainly pushing out information to the public instead of responding to every individual question or complaint.
  5. Focus on the end goal. Seeing how thankful the community is to have a library again will make all the hard work worth it.
  6. Each day is a new battle. Once you open, expect multiple things to go wrong each day. The self-checkout and printer will stop working, books will go missing, and volunteers will fall off the face of the earth. Eventually it will be figured out, and you’ll finally be able to take a breath and answer some emails.

A bit about the author, Adrienne Groves:

  • Currently serving as Community Outreach Coordinator for the Roseburg Public Library.
  • Adrienne earned a bachelors degree in Environmental Studies-Biology from Whitman College
  • People may be surprised… “I was an Editor‐in‐Chief of my college’s literary arts magazine blue moon.”