Page Valley Cycling at crossroads; popular tourist events face backlash from locals, officials

Page News and Courier

STANLEY — Bright and sunny all Saturday for the majority of the Page Valley Road Race, the ominous gray clouds started arriving as the afternoon turned to evening.

"The weekend's races went well, except for a little bit of rain at the end," said event organizer Chris Gould, letting out a chuckle.

There were 305 riders in attendance for this race, up from 275 last year.

Gould, owner of Luray's Hawksbill Bicycles store, splits his time between Page County and Washington, D.C. He has been organizing bike races in the area through Page Valley Cycling since 2008.

"It's been quite a while," Gould said. "It started out with Page Valley Road Race, which was the one this last weekend. Then it grew out from there."

A life-long athlete, an injury from running led Gould to bike racing, which had less impact on his body. After competing in a number of races, Gould began noticing issues he had with the events.

"One of the things that always hit me was every time I would go to one of these races, I would have no idea of the place that I was going to," Gould said. "There was no connection between the bike race and the community."

Gould had the idea to begin organizing his own events.

"I started thinking that I should stop complaining and start promoting my own bike races with that in mind," Gould said. "So, when I do these events in Page County, I'm very deliberately trying to make them community events that focus on the area."

The added community element has not been lost on the bikers, who routinely compliment the area to Gould. In 2015, the five Page Valley Cycling events brought in around 1,900 people to the county. The Tour of Page County, held in April, is the year's biggest event.

"Bike racers are a very loyal community," Gould noted. "When they perceive that there's a community or business that's supportive of them, they will go out of their way to patronize that area or business."

Gould brought up the three mayors of Page County appearing at their town's respective events as having an impact on the racers, in addition to the hospitality of the business owners and locals.

"There is nothing better than to have a local official show up at a race and say 'You're welcome here,'" Gould added.

The races have had an economic impact on Page County, with the events bringing in around $230,000 in food, merchandise and lodging in 2015.

"I deliberately push Page County as not only a place to ride your bike and have fun, but also a place, post-season, to stay at a B&B with your sweetheart," Gould said.

Luray Parks and Recreation Director Pat O'Brien has trumpeted the benefits of tourism to the area, noting that the scenic imagery is ideal for visitors.

"We do these races in beautiful areas," O'Brien said. "We really are becoming a destination-area for events like this."

Gould does enjoy giving back to the community through the events, noting that he does not make any money off of the races, and that any profit goes toward the next event or to charity. Gould works closely with Choices of Page County.

Karen Riddle, a board member for Choices, helps organize volunteers for the events.

"I think the bike races are incredible," Riddle said. "It is great to put a highlight on the area — they ride around and it's a showcase of the area for them. That translates into amazing opportunities for the community."

Riddle said that Choices considers Page Valley Cycling to be a "big brother" organization for them.

"To have a group that puts such a spotlight on domestic abuse is amazing," Riddle said. "It is truly a gift that they're giving back to the community like they do. I feel inspired by Chris and what he does, and I look forward to continuing to work with him."

There are some in the community who do not support Gould or his races, and he realizes that. Working with those in the area is a priority for Page Valley Cycling.

"There's always gonna be people who are irritated by the inconvenience of the races, that their trip to the grocery store is slowed by a few minutes," Gould said. "I do my best to try and respond to those people."

Gould added that he has disqualified racers and banned them from future competitions for inappropriate behavior.

"I think for the most part, the bike racers act fine," Gould said.

While town officials have supported the bike races, county officials withdrew monetary support earlier this year. Organizations in Page County can apply for "Transient Occupancy Tax" funds, which are generated by lodging and are to be used for "marketing of tourism or initiatives that … attract travelers to the locality, increase occupancy at lodging properties and generate tourism revenues in the locality," according to the Virginia Code.

In 2015, Gould applied for and received $5,000. He used the money for advertising.

This year, Gould applied for $7,000 in TOT funding and received nothing.

"That creates a little bit of a budget challenge for me, since I had assumptions in the budget that didn't happen," Gould said. "I'm going to have to figure out a way to adjust that."

Gould noted that he did not understand the shift in tone from the Board, as they seemed supportive of his races last year.

"My concern with my request was with the tone that was taken — at least by Supervisor [Larry] Foltz, was that it wasn't saying 'I recognize that this is an important event, but we have a hard decision to make,' it was 'I don't like these bike races, so I don't want to give any money,'" Gould said.

Board Chairman Johnny Woodward said that he, as well as other supervisors, had personally received complaints about the bike races.

"We asked the same questions for any organization requesting TOT funds," Woodward said. "We go over each one equally, and have that same process for everybody who requests funds. That way nobody can say we're showing any favoritism."

Gould noted that there were other funding avenues he intends to explore with the Board in the future.

"There's a certain irony involved, since the triathlon got [TOT] money and they involve a bike race," Gould said.

Regarding the future of Page Valley Cycling's races, Gould admitted that he is concerned about where things will go.

"The challenge that I have is that I need to assess whether [the complaints are] representative of the majority of the community, or if that is a minority voice," Gould said. "If it's representative of the community, I'm not in the business of getting my neighbors mad at me."

He believes, though, that the negative feedback is likely just from a vocal minority.

"From the feedback I've gotten, the races are very much supported, and if that's the case I would like to go full-speed ahead," Gould said.

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