- Associated Press - Saturday, May 28, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Spend a weekend under the blue arches of the High Trestle Trail bridge and you’ll find riders from across Iowa enjoying the picturesque views from 13 stories above the Des Moines River valley.

Since opening in 2011, the 25-mile stretch from Ankeny to Woodward has become a bicycle-tourism mecca, sprouting cottage industries that cater to cyclists, The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/1SZ7boF ) reported. Oases like the Nite Hawk Bar & Grill in Slater and the Flat Tire Lounge in Madrid pack in thousands of riders on busy summer weekends.

“In Iowa, biking is very social. We stop and get a drink or two,” said Dan Heiderscheit, owner of Firetrucker Brewery in Ankeny. “It’s helping some of us small businesses get a foothold and grow because (riders) tend to support local businesses a lot more.”

Heiderscheit opened the brewery in 2014 in part because of its location near the town’s trail

“The Ankeny Market Pavilion really opens up a new opportunity for the city to attract larger, bike-related events, and we’re already seeing that with the commitment of some larger regional rides,” said Derek Lord, economic development director.

The High Trestle Trail is the most popular bike trail in Iowa, according to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. It averages more than 40,000 riders a month during the summer at the bridge.

Shawn Birdsall, owner of the Nite Hawk Bar & Grill, has seen the impact the High Trestle Trail had on the town of 1,500 people 19 miles north of Ankeny.

“I’ve had people from New Zealand, Australia, people from all over the world that we’ve met because they want to ride the bridge,” Birdsall said. “We have the best trail in the country right now, and people want to ride it.”

He opened the bar in 2012. He estimates that 50 percent of his customers come directly from the trail during the busy spring and summer months. And they’re not just stopping at the Nite Hawk; cyclists are finding other activities in Slater, he said.

“There wasn’t much of a draw in Slater before it,” Birdsall said. “The streets were never full. The tennis courts, the parking lots were never full, because there was nothing for them to do in town. The trail has made a big difference.”

Flat Tire Lounge opened in 2012, east of the High Trestle bridge. During the summer, the bar and patio are filled with spandex-clad riders.

“My first summer I worked in 2013, I didn’t think business would ever end,” said Tanner Adams, assistant manager.

Now, Ankeny is getting in on the action. Last year, the city extended the High Trestle Trail a half-mile south to Southwest Ordinance Road, and this summer it is spending $180,000 to reconstruct another mile of asphalt trail to reach the Des Moines Area Community College campus.

In 2013, the city purchased the Union Pacific rail-bed corridor. Over the next five years it plans to build a trail along the rail bed that will link the High Trestle Trail and the Gay Lea Wilson Trail. It will create a more straightforward link between Des Moines and Ankeny.

“I think Ankeny is becoming more and more of a bike-friendly town,” said Nick Lenox, the city’s Parks and Recreation director. “The No. 1 request is trail connections.”

The Ankeny Market Pavilion includes a 1.3-acre park with 108 parking spaces at the High Trestle Trail head that serves as a gathering space for cyclists. The city is building two 100-by-500-foot pavilions that will host farmers markets and other community events. Backers expect that the park will draw 100,000 visitors a year once it’s completed in fall 2017.

“It may attract regional events (and) draw people in Ankeny for social gatherings, whether it be live music or weddings or arts,” Lord said. “It really opens up a new opportunity for various organizations in the city of Ankeny to create or draw more interest in Uptown Ankeny.”

Several large bike rides have committed to Ankeny. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society bike ride had its largest participation ever after moving to the city in 2015. The number of riders doubled, and the amount of money raised grew to $106,795 from $63,118 the year before, when the ride was held in Ames.

“The buy-in from the business community was crucial, as was the overall support we’ve had from volunteers in Ankeny,” said Brent Renneke, public relations manager for the Upper Midwest chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “The ride logistics were rock solid. It was definitely a successful move for us. We foresee the bike ride being in Ankeny for the distant future.”

In September, the Midwest Tandem Rally will bring 1,000 bikers to Ankeny, and 900 hotel rooms have been reserved in town, Lord said.

“Once the word gets out that these events are well-coordinated and organized and nice, we hope to capitalize on the bicycling tourism that the Ankeny Market Pavilion and the High Trestle Trail provides the city,” Lord said. “It’s a long-term strategy to increase bicycle tourism in the city to support Uptown Ankeny and the retail and commercial environment we have around the trail.”

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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