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Kyrgyzstan lake to become bicyclists’ haven

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Kyrgyz youth are "pedaling" a new plan to boost tourism and employment: a 300-mile bicycle route around the beautiful environs of the world's 10th largest lake — Issyk-Kul, in the Tian Shan mountains of eastern Kyrgyzstan.

A youth group called the Bai Issyk-Kul Foundation came up with the idea for the bike route, which will circumnavigate Lake Issyk-Kul — and which planners hope will create jobs from the cafes, markets, and bicycle rental and repair shops that will spring up along the route.

"Cycling is very popular," said Almaz Ayylchiev, head of the Bai Issyk-Kul Foundation. "Nothing like this has been done in this country before, and there are many advantages for both tourists who come here and the local population."

The estimated $1 million project is backed by the regional government and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and the Ministry of Labor and Employment. Projects officials hope to win additional funding from international investors.

Construction is planned to begin this spring and to occur in two phases over 18 months.

About 120 jobs will be offered to people between 18 and 28 to build the route, half of which will be reserved for residents in the region, Mr. Ayylchiev said.

"With this project, we [expect] to have lot of tourists here, which will rapidly increase the revenue of our country," said Michael Khalitov, head of Kyrgyzstan's Entrepreneurs Union in Bishkek.

"Lake Issyk-Kul is set to receive new infrastructure facilities, which in any case will have a positive impact on tourism development in Kyrgyzstan," he said.

Thousands of visitors already flock to Lake Issyk-Kul's beaches in July and August, and a growing ski industry in the Tian Shan mountains encircling the lake draws tourists from December to February.

The bike route project aims to attract visitors year-round with the challenge and the splendor of its three-day cycle trek.

"If there is a civilized, comfortable bike path that meets international standards, this of course will immediately attract tourists with a passion for cycling," professional cyclist Jaroslav Yuzefovich said in Bishkek. "I think that this operation will bring a lot of benefits, as foreign cyclists arriving here will be able to admire the beauty of our country."

Project organizers said the route, which will be lined with specially planted trees, will be open not only to cyclists.

"This track can also be used by pedestrians, skaters, skateboarders and in the future small electric vehicles," said Kanaev Elias of the Bai Issyk-Kul Foundation. "This project involves the development of eco-tourism and healthy lifestyles."

Meanwhile, organizers of bicycle tour groups already are showing interest in the project, which they say will give them the opportunity to make the most of the region's scenery.

"The region around the lake is a stunning part of Kyrgyzstan," said Dermot MacWard, owner of Red Spokes Cycling Adventure tours in London, which already provides cycling trips around Lake Issyk-Kul.

Mr. MacWard said that because of the high volume of traffic on roads skirting the north of the lake, his tours currently take in only the southern shores.

"To have a cycle route going around the lake would certainly be [an interesting option] when I'm looking at doing cycling tours around Kyrgyzstan," he said.

Locals say they are pleased with the commerce they hope the project will bring to the region.

"We have a great environment around the lake, with historic sites, thermal springs, mountains and forests," said Omurbek Kydyrov, a resident of Kyzyl Tuu, a village near Lake Issyk-Kul. "[This] will attract more tourists [and] will increase employment opportunities for locals because [we] will serve the tourists."

Osborne reported from Berlin.

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