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.

Discovering Your Purpose

When I was little I had decided that I was going to be a veterinarian. I was so set on the idea that even by the time I had finished high school I still hadn’t done any real thinking about what career path would be best for me. It was so systematic. One day I graduated high school and two months later I packed up all my belongings and drove to a town I had never been too simply because I had heard through the grapevine that it was a good college for pre veterinary classes.

Little did I know that I would loathe the town itself. Little did I know that a veterinarian’s lifestyle was not one I would find appealing. Little did I know that I had made the mistake of laying out a path for myself without putting any real logical or emotional thought into my career goals aside from what my 5-year-old self had decided for me.

And then it began.

The never-ending journey to a destination that kept on changing. First it was biology, then anthropology, psychology, social services, and then finally environmental science. As you probably can imagine, my poor mother was getting whiplash from the number of times I had called her to announce my new found passion. Nothing had felt better than finally walking across that stage and receiving my bachelor’s degree. And nothing felt worse than getting home and realizing that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with it.

I decided I was going to spend a couple of years doing things that were going to help me decide what my real passions were outside a classroom. I had spent so many years absorbing knowledge I wanted an opportunity to give it back for once. I wasn’t sure how, I just knew I needed to stop planning and start doing.

Soon after I pursued a year of teaching through AmeriCorps. While I thoroughly enjoyed my role in the school, I knew it wasn’t right for me. About this time a year ago I was trying to decide what I wanted to do the following year. As most people know, life is in constant motion, there are hardly moments when you’re not trying to do something while also calculating your next step.

Jump ahead to the present and here I am, a RARE AmeriCorps member. Per usual, I didn’t know what to expect. I had about a million ideas as to how it might turn out, and not one of those turned out to be accurate.

I could tell you about my position in every formal detail but it wouldn’t be an accurate description. Instead I want to tell you about the single occurrence that illustrates nearly every aspect outside of what you can find posted on the job description part of my organizations website.

A couple of months into my position I was told about a new non-profit organization, Animal Aid Inc.. Having had worked for a non-profit before I knew that there is never really enough help to go around and so I decided to reach out to the organizations director. Shortly after I visited the organization to see what it was all about. Natasha, the director, had told me about how the organization was formed to help provide shelter for animals had been seized by law enforcement from their owners. Each animal had a different story with a different background as to how they got there. I was moved by the work they were doing, and even more amazed when I found out they were fueled completely by volunteers and Natasha herself. The challenge they were facing was that there simply were not enough volunteers and they didn’t have the funds to hire anyone. Natasha had spent endless overtime hours at the organization reassuring that each animal received the care it needed. Everyone knows that working over 40 hours a week is a challenge, but also having a child in grade school makes it that much more difficult.

I spent hours at Animal Aid Inc. that afternoon. I couldn’t seem to step away. I felt deeply for Animal Aid Inc. and the work they were doing just to reassure that these animals weren’t left to fend for themselves. I knew I wanted to do what I could to assure that the organization to continue the work it was doing and there was nothing more satisfying than realizing my organization had the resources to help give Natasha the much needed break she deserved and Animal Aid Inc. the assistance it earned.

I discussed the organization with associates and together we figured out a way we could help contribute. Within the month Northwest Oregon Works in partnership with Community Service Consortium was able to connect with a youth, Alana, who happen to be looking for a position working with animals. Alana was an outstanding youth who had just graduated high school and had the desire to work but did not have the resources to make it happen. It was in that instance that I realized how many privileges I had taken for granted in my own life, such as a vehicle to get me to job interviews or a parent who was able to provide me with the tools such as work ready clothing. It’s easy to forget about the challenges other people have to accomplish just to get to the same finish line.

Luckily CSC and NOW had the tools that not only assisted her in getting the right clothing but also supplied her with a bus pass that would enable her to get to work every day. Soon after Alana interviewed with Natasha and it turned out to be a match. After we confirmed it would work we were able to enroll Alana in a work experience program that then allowed us to pay her wages so that Natasha wouldn’t have to.

At that point I had never went home feeling as satisfied with an work related outcome as I had that day. Alana was more than thrilled to start her job and I had the joy of getting to help her get there. As if that weren’t enough Natasha was so thankful for the pair of extra hands at Animal Aid Inc. With Alana’s help she now had more time to spend at home with her child and I got to be a part of that.

If I were to tell you that I have now discovered what I want to do for the rest of my life because of this experience then I would be lying to you. But what I can tell you is that I am about 5 times closer to understanding what kind of work makes me happy, and that is helping people. This realization in itself may not be a big deal for some people but it felt like a big deal to me. For those of us in this world that are indecisive about what we want to dedicate our entire being to understand that finding a little piece of something that clicks, lets us breathe, if only for a second; is amazing.

A bit about the author, Ciera Guerrero:

  • Currently serving as a Youth Development Success Coach for the Northwest Oregon Works.
  • Bachelor of General Studies in Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Spring 2016
  • People may be surprised… “that I know how to change my own oil!”

Does community development work interest you? Are you looking for a life changing experience in rural Oregon? Learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program via our website: