Persistence brought Cycle Oregon back around

Persistence brought Cycle Oregon back around

The seeds Sue Stephens sows can take years to germinate.

Consider her efforts to lure Cycle Oregon to Medford. Stephens first learned about the popular bicycle tour in 2004 when 2,000 riders wheeled into Jacksonville to spend the night. She had just started working with Medford's Visitors and Convention Bureau, and she was impressed by the hundreds of cyclists who descended on local restaurants, bars, shops and inns.

"Why not Medford?" she thought, and set out to lure Cycle Oregon to town on its next visit to Southern Oregon.

"I was just very excited about bringing so many people to our area who don't know much about us," she said, "or what they know was (how things were) 25 years ago."

Whenever Stephens found herself around Portland, she stopped by the Cycle Oregon office to say hello and remind the crew that Medford would love to have the tour come through.

Stephens' patient persistence was rewarded early in February, when Cycle Oregon announced the 2009 tour. Not only will the route pass through Medford — the loop begins and ends here. That means 2,000 riders and their guests will be in Medford Sept. 11-12, and again on Sept. 19.

From Medford, Cycle Oregon riders will trace a loop that includes a stretch of the Klamath River in Northern California, with stops in Yreka and Happy Camp. They'll climb the Siskiyous and spend a night at Lake Selmac in Josephine County, then make overnight stops in Glendale and Grants Pass before returning to Medford.

Local service organizations in each overnight community earn money for their projects by feeding the riders and helping set up camp.

Jerry Norquist, Cycle Oregon's executive director, appreciated Stephens' interest over the long haul.

"Sue stayed in touch with us ever since we were in Jacksonville," Norquist said. "She's worked real hard on it over the years.

"When you know somebody wants you to come that badly, you sure want to take advantage of that," he said.

Cyclists have noticed, too. The ride through what's being called the "Mythical State of Jefferson" (in a nod to a separatist movement that fizzled when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor) sold out Wednesday, less than two weeks after it was announced.

Stephens said bringing the tour to Southern Oregon will give many people their first introduction to the region. Last year's ride drew participants from 44 states and 12 foreign countries, including Japan, Belgium and Portugal.

"Cycle Oregon likes to have their attendees get a feel for the people who live in the communities along the route," she said. "I've talked with riders. They find a place they love (on the cycle tour) and they go back for vacations."

The riders are a particularly attractive group of visitors for local businesses, especially during an economic slump. Surveys indicate 74 percent of the riders have an income of at least $60,000, and their average age is 51.

"It's an upscale crowd," said Anne Jenkins, the Visitors and Convention Bureau's senior vice president. "They're people you don't always get an opportunity to work with."

Jenkins said the tour can help dispel notions some people may carry about this corner of Oregon.

"Some people still think we're 'backwoods,' " she said. "They don't understand the geography of Southern Oregon. Even people in Washington and Idaho don't realize Crater Lake is in Southern Oregon. They think it's in Northern California.

"This will give us a chance to teach people what we have for a day trip or an overnight, or just a couple of hours," she said.

Stephens said the convention bureau hopes to link to Cycle Oregon's Web site so riders can find out more about the region before they arrive.

"I'm excited to see it come to fruition," she said. "I'm excited for our community."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail

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