Small Town Invests Big in Bicycle Travel- Sterling, Kansas: A Case Study in Bicycle Tourism

Apr 12th, 2021

At a glance, Sterling, Kansas appears to come straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The major summer event is its Old Fashioned Fourth of July with fireworks, a parade, and turtle races. The local design committee tends to the flowers along the main street. But, under the Rockwellian veneer, Sterling is a progressive small town making huge efforts to welcome bicycle travelers.

It started when the annual Biking Across Kansas ride passed through Sterling in 2015. Locals took note of money that could be made from traveling cyclists. That same year, Kansas designated U.S. Bicycle Route 76, which runs two miles south of Sterling. With both the TransAmerica Trail and USBR 76 so close to town, a group of local business owners and city officials brought in Wayne Byrd, a local Kansan and the creator of Bicycle Friendly America, to help. Byrd gave them ideas for what would make Sterling a place where cyclists would be willing to cycle two miles off the route and stay for a night. He helped them with ideas to improve cycling safety and accessibility for both local and traveling cyclists.

They started by installing bicycle racks, wayfinding signs, and a bicycle repair station at Sterling Lake, where cyclists can camp for $2.

In 2018, Stacy Clark of of Rice County Economic Development helped secure a grant for a bicycle and pedestrian plan for the county. She recognized the connection between a healthy community and streets that made space for cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists.

Craig Crossette, Sterling’s City Manager, credits the Rice County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan with helping him secure two Kansas Department of Transportation grants. Combined, the grants brought over $800,000, almost four times Sterling’s annual budget for street and road improvements.

“When you have a strategic plan like the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, it shows that the community has done the leg work.  We went out and gathered information. We interviewed stakeholders and consultants. We found the bottlenecks where safety and accessibility was an issue. Ask your neighbors. They know where the problems are,” Crossette said.
For Crossette, safer options for traveling by foot and bike not only bring more visitors—like bicycle travelers—to town but they improve the livability of Sterling. Not only will locals have a better quality of life but it also makes Sterling a place where more people might want to live.

“People are looking for the feel of a small town like Sterling but the amenities they have in the city like bike lanes and coffee shops,” Clark said. “We have a coffee shop and we’re getting bike lanes.”
“Progressive communities have easy and accessible options for cycling,” Crossette said. “Good transportation options are a big part of why people choose to live where they do. The more safe options Sterling has, the better.”

Cyclist enjoying a ride in Sterling
Matt White from Rockhouse MotionCredit

    One of the next projects for Sterling is the Cyclists’ Kiosk at Sterling Lake. The kiosk will list amenities such as where traveling cyclists can find groceries and WIFI, and it will also help them see the best of what Sterling has to offer like the ‘must see’ places.  

    Last summer, the Kansas Department of Transportation installed signs along USBR 76. Business owners in Sterling are hoping the signs will help bring even more cyclists to town.  

Now, between the USBRS 76 signs, and the wayfinding signs the town of Sterling posted, traveling cyclists should easily be able to navigate across the state and into picturesque downtown Sterling for a chance to experience all Smalltown America has to offer.