Chi-Cheemaun statistics confirm cycling tourism’s Island growth

OWEN SOUND—Although the complete statistics broken down by month for all classes of travellers have not yet been released, the initial stats on cycling travellers onboard the M.S. Chi-Cheemaun ferry, running between the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula and South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island, have heartened local cycling advocates.

“The Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA) have been working diligently since 2010 to raise awareness, create safer roads and increase cycle tourism on Manitoulin and the LaCloche Region,” said spokesperson Maja Mielonen. “So this year’s ferry bicycle counts are very encouraging. The total ferry count is over 5,200 bicycles for the 2014 season. That is an increase of more than 25 percent over 2013. MICA has been working to increase this newly emerging tourism segment on Manitoulin in partnership with the Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) for several years.”

Ms. Mielonen went on to thank OSTC CEO Susan Schrempf for including the racked and ridden bicycle count since 2013.

The ferry stats are only part of the cycling tourism equation, of course, but anecdotal reports from across Manitoulin have also been encouraging. “Accommodation providers have told us that they saw a significant increase in bicycle tourism last summer,” said Ms. Mielonen. She added that the increase in some cases represented between five and 10 percent of those providers overall business. “It is especially good that we are starting to see the shoulder season numbers climb,” said Ms. Mielonen. “The Manitoulin Passage Ride (a marketing initiative that pairs accommodation discounts with passage on the ferry) helps this trend along as riders experience how quiet the roads are in the off-season and how very few bugs there are on Manitoulin.”

Manitoulin’s small businesses are welcoming this opportunity to fill their accommodations in early June, continued the cycling advocate. “MICA is very happy with the increasing number of small businesses that wish to advertise on our website www.manitoulincycling.com,” she said. “This helps our volunteer efforts greatly.”

Ms. Mielonen, who operates the popular Maja’s in Mindemoya and is a familiar sight at local food promotional events and farmers’ markets, puts in a good portion of her off-season time to promoting cycling and Manitoulin Island.

“MICA is also very pleased to be able to attend the 29th International Bicycle Show, March 6-8, 2015 with support from our municipalities, OSTC, The Expositor and our MICA volunteers,” she said. “This three-day show attracts around 25,000 visitors and we will do our best to represent Manitoulin and the LaCloche region.”

“Our visitors love cycling on the Island,” continued Ms. Mielonen. “They have purchased over 6,000 Manitoulin Island Cycling Routes and Road Maps in the past three years and have indicated in a MICA survey done in 2013 that they would like to see cycling infrastructure improvements, cycling racks, way-finding signage and water fountains.”

MICA has been approaching local municipalities to explore funding for way finding with municipal support, but Ms. Mielonen said that she would like to see some provincial tourism dollars flowing into the sector as well.

“It will be interesting to see whether there has been an increase in motorcycle numbers from the ferry,” she said. “We don’t begrudge the motorcylists, as local business people need all the people coming we can get, but if the numbers have stagnated in the motorcycle sector (where the regional tourism organization has been pouring in tens of thousands of marketing dollars), perhaps we can encourage the province to put some money into promoting cycling tourism too.”

“In 2013 LAMBAC started their cycling infrastructure strategy plan and MICA will help wherever we can to continue this LAMBAC initiative,” said Ms. Mielonen. “Let’s welcome these very encouraging numbers of new visitors by providing the infrastructure our cycling visitors hope to find in a place they choose for their active living vacation.”

Ms. Mielonen said she was encouraged by the local uptake of the active lifestyle sport as well. “We are happy to see many Islanders taking up recreational cycling and hope you will join us on the 5th Annual Manitoulin Passage Ride June 6 and 7, 2015 (a marketing initiative that pairs passage on the ferry with cycling tours of Manitoulin Island) where we are highlighting the Georgian Bay Cycling Route, Core A and Core B, on Manitoulin,” she invited readers of The Expositor. “There is no charge for children 12 and under. The ride fee is $40 for one day or $ 75 for two days. The full two-day fee includes a free ferry ride for walk-on cyclists both ways. Cyclists can arrive Friday and leave no later than Monday within that offer. It includes full ride support, ride snacks both days, one supper, a pig roast courtesy of Max Burt with live music held this year at Batman’s in Sheguiandah and one lunch on the second day at Kicking Mule Ranch. What a fun way to start the riding season of 2015. Register at www.manitoulincycling.com. Wishing you all a great holiday. Do you remember how exciting it was to see a shiny, new bicycle under the Christmas tree?”