Touring bicyclists wanting to retrace the path of explorers Lewis and Clark or pedal through the northern tier of the U.S. are being warned to steer clear of northwest North Dakota because of heavy oil traffic.
Missoula, Mont.-based Adventure Cycling Association said it's remapping the popular bike routes due to "alarming reports" about risky riding conditions through North Dakota's booming oil patch.
New maps are due in May to reflect the change, the biggest such amendment to U.S. routes in the nonprofit's 39-year history, cartographer Jennifer Milyko said.
Based on reports from scores of cyclists, Milyko said roads through North Dakota's oil patch are among the most dangerous of the group's 40,000-mile route network in the U.S.
"The roads are filled with mile after mile of big heavy trucks that make cyclists feel very unsafe," Milyko said. "They're scared out of their wits."
Affected are Adventure Cycling's Northern Tier Route from Anacortes, Wash., to Bar Harbor, Maine, and the Lewis and Clark Trail route from Missouri to Oregon. Both itineraries through North Dakota are now rerouted up to 100 miles south, mostly along the Interstate 94 corridor.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark spent the winter of 1804-05 at Fort Mandan, near present-day Washburn, as they explored the Louisiana Purchase at President Thomas Jefferson's request. The explorers traveled up the Missouri River, near present-day Williston, now the hub of North Dakota's oil patch.
North Dakota Highway 1804, which skirts the Missouri River and was named for the year of the explorers' westward journey, is no longer part of Adventure Cycling's mapped route.
"We hated having to move away from that historical area but safety really trumps everything," Milyko said.
One touring cyclist was killed in 2010 while traveling through the oil patch region of North Dakota. The Highway Patrol said the 70-year-old Terra Haute, Ind., woman was biking east from Stanley to Minot when she was hit by a pickup truck.
Rocky Schell, co-owner of Val's Cycle in Minot, said his shop provides parts, tires and tune-ups to more than 150 touring cyclists each summer. Many others come in just to chat, he said.
"They love our air conditioner," Schell said. "We're the biggest cyclery they've seen since the West Coast."
Remapping the routes will hurt his business and others such as cafes, stores and campgrounds in cities throughout northern North Dakota, he said.
"It's outside money they'd never see," Schell said.
Doug Hoffman and his wife, Anna, had hosted touring cyclists at their home in Williston until the couple moved a few years ago off the mapped bike route to nearby Trenton.
Hoffman said he met cyclists from faraway places as they traveled through the area.
"It was a very interesting experience and some really interesting people," he said.
Cyclists weren't complaining about traffic four years ago but he understands why they would be now with the explosion of oil extraction in the area and the traffic that comes with it.
"It's kind of sad but it makes sense," Hoffman said of remapping the bike routes. "I wouldn't want to ride a bicycle. There is a lot of traffic and crazy drivers taking chances when they shouldn't."