Route that runs south of Prineville recently approved by Oregon Parks and Recreation Department

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The Cascade Cycling Classic has taken place on a portion of Highway 27 that is now part of a new designated scenic bikeway.

A more than two-year effort to launch an official scenic bikeway in Crook County has finally paid dividends.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and Travel Oregon announced Thursday that the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission approved the designation of the Crooked River Canyon Scenic Bikeway.

For Casey Kaiser, a member of the scenic bikeway's steering committee, the designation is a welcome development that concludes a roughly four-year process.

"It feels like a nice victory," he said, noting that one of the most satisfying parts of the designation is how it was made possible by many local organizations working together.

"The process included working with all of the different stakeholders who owned or had an interest in land along (the bikeway)," he said. That list of stakeholders includes private landowners, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, Oregon Department of Transportation and Ochoco Irrigation District.

"They all provided feedback and had opportunities to provide input into the process and how it impacted their land," Kaiser said. "It was quite a lengthy process."

The bikeway joins a collection of cycling routes overseen by the Oregon Scenic Bikeways program. The cycling routes are intended to inspire people to experience Oregon's natural beauty and cultural heritage by bicycle.

Launched in 2009, the program is a partnership between Cycle Oregon, Travel Oregon, Oregon Department of Transportation and OPRD. It is the first and only program of its kind in the United States.

Scenic Bikeway routes are nominated by local community groups and are designated by OPRD based on scenic quality, road conditions and general riding enjoyment. Newly designated routes are developed by a partnership between OPRD, community groups and local government.

The Crooked River bikeway is rated at moderate difficulty and stretches 18 scenic miles between Prineville and Big Bend Campground.

"Riders begin the 37 mile out-and-back journey in the historic community of Prineville," Oregon Parks and Recreation Department stated in a recent news release. "The bikeway follows the Crooked River south out of town, giving riders picturesque views of the surrounding llama farms and cattle ranches."

The route leaves the pastures behind as it enters the Crooked River Canyon. There, the road winds through the canyon's towering basalt cliffs, curving and climbing to a scenic view near Palisades Campground before descending back toward the river.

"Riders will pedal by Chimney Rock Recreation Site, a popular picnicking spot and fun place to watch local anglers fly fish in the Crooked River," OPRD said.

The final stretch of the Crooked River Scenic Bikeway continues through the canyon and passes by several other day-use sites and campgrounds. Riders may spot resident wildlife like deer, great blue herons and golden eagles. The bikeway ends at Big Bend Campground, which has parking, restrooms, water and power.

"The ride is best enjoyed during the spring and fall when seasonal colors are vibrant," OPRD recommends. "Most of the day-use sites along the route have restrooms; two have water to refill any empty bottles. The bikeway can also be ridden on clear winter days, rewarding intrepid cyclists with brisk blue-sky rides through the quiet landscape."

Having received the new designation, work now begins on adding amenities to the scenic bikeway. Kaiser said people can expect see new signs along the stretch of highway as well as at Rimrock Park where the bikeway begins.

Later this spring, members of the steering committee plan to host some launching events, including a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Prineville Perk, a grand opening and an organized ride. At this time, the committee is targeting May 18 for the festivities.

Moving ahead, the committee plans to make a series of improvements to the route, such as adding paved aprons at day-use and camping sites along the highway.

"Now that we have the designation, we can start working on the potential for funding," Kaiser said.

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