Chamber, Jefferson Matters collaborating to up bicycle tourism

Cover of the Jefferson mobile app
Cover of the Jefferson mobile app

Jefferson will have its own mobile app, custom-designed to attract bicyclists, Millennials and other visitors by the summer. Development of the app is a benefit available to Main Street communities, and  the Jefferson app demonstrates collaboration between Jefferson Matters: Main Street and the Greene County Chamber of Commerce.

Angie Pedersen, Chamber tourism and events coordinator, and Deb McGinn, Main Street board member, shared with the Jefferson city council Tuesday information they gathered at the Iowa Bicycle Tourism Conference at the Hotel Pattee in Perry last month.

As a trailhead community on the Raccoon River Valley Trail, Jefferson has opportunities to attract visitors from the 300,000 cyclists who ride on the trail each year. Millennials – those born between 1980 and 1995 – make up the majority of them.

Bicyclists spend three times more than the average traveler, studies show. The key is to draw them up the north loop of the RRVT and then to downtown Jefferson, Pedersen and McGinn said.

Jefferson already has many of the amenities bicyclists are looking for, such as coffee shops and restaurants, public art, and live music, but signage along the trail telling them of those businesses is lacking, they said. “Only if we tell them about us will they be able to spend their money with us,” Pedersen said.

“Jefferson needs to become the trusted resource for the bike community. If we do, the bike community will become loyal to us and to our businesses. They will return often because they can depend on Jefferson to support what they need,” McGinn said.

Bicyclists at the conference said they need well-maintained bike lanes year-round, stores and restaurants that will welcome them in their biking gear, bike racks where they can secure their bikes, air and fix-it stations, accessible restrooms and places to fill water bottles, restaurants that offer healthy meals that ride easily in a cyclist’s stomach, places to charge cellular phones and use WiFi, “and lots of coffee shops and cold beer,” McGinn said.

In Perry, the merchants all have signs in their windows announcing which amenities (like cell phone charging, WiFi, or restrooms) they offer. Pedersen and McGinn would like to see similar signs in Jefferson businesses.

Many Millennials plan their trips digitally. The new ProsperWalk cell phone app is meant to make that easy. Cellular apps are expensive to develop, but ProsperWalk has made its app available at no charge to all accredited Main Street communities.

“Think of the mobile app as putting all the printed guides we now have, and more, in the palm of bicyclists’ hands,” Pedersen said. Telephone numbers, maps, store hours, a calendar of events, and links to merchants’ websites and Facebook pages will be included.

Pedersen and McGinn will populate the fields in the app for all Jefferson businesses rather than asking businesses to do it for themselves. “We both feel that Main Street and Chamber are both supposed to help businesses, not hinder them with one more thing to do in their day,” McGinn said.

Their goal is to have more signage on the RRVT, more cyclist-friendly amenities in the community, getting businesses to recognize there is an untapped customer base in the bicycling community, and to launch the ProsperWalk app.

They plan to use ideas from the ISU Retail Scapes studio class in designing signage. Many of the class projects cued in on the RRVT as an asset in the community and suggested ways to build upon that. They hope to place signage on the trail starting at Herndon to draw them the last 12 miles north to Jefferson rather than turning east and heading toward Perry.

Jefferson mayor Craig Berry is a frequent rider on the RRVT. He agreed that better signage is needed. Pedersen had earlier invited the council to imagine drawing 1 percent of RRVT riders to Jefferson. Berry upped that vision to 5 percent.

Welcome Center update: In other tourism-related business, council member Lisa Jaskey reported that the hotel/motel committee had met to discuss a proposal that Greene County Development Corporation take over the completion and operation of the Welcome Center at the Thomas Jefferson Gardens.

Should that happen, the council’s policy for hotel/motel tax use would need to be amended so that the Tier 2 funds, up to $20,000 for debt service and operation would be changed to allocate that money to GCDC rather than the Chamber. Jaskey said the committee is agreeable.

GCDC executive director Ken Paxton said at the town hall meeting last month the Welcome Center would be open this summer. It would provide public restrooms and serve as a hub for tourism in Jefferson and Greene County.

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