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Williamsport: Bike-Forward Town on the C&O

By - December 19, 2014

In October we met with cyclists from CVCC and city staff part of the Bicycle Advisory Committee. Hagerstown put in a ten-mile bike loop connecting the city parks, has numerous bike events, and the city staff is interested in pursuing new improvements (like a bike box for a tricky left-hand turn). While in Hagerstown, local cyclists pointed us towards Williamsport, a small town of just over 2,000 residents immediately adjacent to the C&O Canal.

On Tuesday, we made it to Williamsport to sit down with town staff and answer questions about what they can do to further improve their bike-ability. Already they have bike lanes and sharrows on the ground, with older bike racks outside of some of the businesses. They have completed a loop around town to the park, and their eyes are set on connecting bike lanes to the Park and Ride SHA recently put in (with bike racks).

The government and businesses in Williamsport understand that bicyclists are key for their long-term economic viability, they are working hard to draw cyclists up from the trail and into town. They notice when tourists come through, and everyone we talked to mentioned the lone tourist that had come through that day: “Did you see the cyclist??” The CandleLight Inn Bed and Breakfast provides secure storage for bikes and equipment for tourists as well as station to clean gear.

The Desert Rose Cafe is a must-visit for cyclists along the trail with two racks permanently bolted outside.  Inside they have a map for visitors to pin where they are from, and they now have a pin in every state in the country. Due to the popularity of the trail with international visitors, they now have a world map. Due to the level of business from tourists in the summer, they now have an ice cream and sweet shop across the street. As the owner Rose put it, local business keeps them going through the off season, but the trail tourism traffic allows them to grow.  Across the street, the Potomac Family Restaurant has a bright yellow rack.

In warmer months an on-street parking spot is removed and a bike rack is bolted in outside the River City Cycles. Here bicyclists can get repairs done and stop and chat with Scott, the owner. Locally, the shop partners with the town government to provide helmet fittings and bicycle repair for children during special events.

With the popularity of 29-inch tires on the trail, the town is looking at replacing its current racks for something new so bicyclists can securely lock up. To increase parking they have received a grant to replace their parking meters with bicycle-compatible parking meters. The town aggressively pursues grants to pay for improvements, and while they do not have a “bicycle advisory committee” or any formal avenue for bicyclists to advise the town, they are open to suggestions.

On the trail, Williamsport’s reputation as a must-see destination is growing. Donnie Stotelmyer, the Town Clerk/Treasurer, informed us that cyclists are now adjusting their itineraries to allow for time in Williamsport. In the coming years they hope to transform Williamsport into the one-stop shop for historical engineering. They have an operating lock, are refurbishing their train bridge, and hope to have the aqueduct up and running in 2016. When that happens they will have the only working aqueduct in the country, and a boat tour will showcase all three features.

Bicycle improvements and drawing cyclists up off the train and into town have made a big difference in Williamsport, providing opportunities for economic growth.  As Donnie, the Town Clerk, put it, “If you had told me I would not have believed you.  It’s unreal.”

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