Tara Pollock — second from left — and fellow “Dirt Divas” Sue Glenn

Tara Pollock — second from left — and fellow “Dirt Divas” Sue Glenn

Ladysmith hosts first Fat Tire Fest

The Vancouver Island Fat Tire Festival debuts this weekend in Ladysmith.

A crew of Cowichan Valley mountain bikers hopes to pump up the local economy by drawing fellow “fat-tire” fans to Ladysmith.

The Vancouver Island Fat Tire Festival (VIFTF) debuts here in Ladysmith this weekend (July 26-28) through the efforts of local riders Tara and Mike Pollock and Robin and Cathy Dutton.

Tara Pollock said the three-day festival promises riders fully-catered meals, transportation to and from Central Island trails, and three days of guided riding.

VIFTF guides will lead group rides at Mt. Tzouhalem and at two undisclosed locations near Nanaimo and Cumberland, Pollock said, before returning to home base at Transfer Beach Park each night for catered meals and refreshments provided by local restaurants, butchers, vintners and brewers.

Pollock said 20 riders have signed up to participate in this year’s inaugural festival.

“It’s small,” she concedes, “but it’s going to grow, and we’ve already got people interested for next year.”

VIFTF is based on Mountain Bike Oregon (MBO), a festival hosted in the town of Oakridge, Oregon, Pollock said.

MBO draws 400 riders to Oakridge each year for two weekend-long riding festivals, bolstering the local economy and placing Oakridge on the national map as a cycling destination; Outside magazine added MBO to its list of America’s best mountain bike festivals for 2013.

“We wanted to try and mimic the same thing,” Pollock said.

“Our main focus is to bring people to the Island, and specifically to Ladysmith to see what a great town it is,” Pollock added. “And to bring them to the Island to ride. Any offshoots from this we hope to put back into the community for the development of multi-use trails so more people will come to Ladysmith to hike and ride.”

Pollock credited Sue Glenn with Ladysmith Parks, Recreation and Culture with helping make the festival a reality. Glenn arranged special permits allowing VIFTF participants to tent at Transfer Beach Park, Pollock said, adding that “Parks and Rec have been amazingly supportive.”

A closer look at how mountain bike festivals boost small-town economies offers insight into why Town administrators and staff might willingly hop on the fat-tire bandwagon.

Jeff McNamee is an associate professor of physical education at Oregon State’s Linfield College. McNamee mountain bikes and runs a local non-profit trail group in his spare time.

He said he used to lobby regulators for support for trail groups using the benefits of fitness and physical activity for leverage until he realized dollar figures would carry far more traction with government officials.

That realization led McNamee and his students to assess the financial impact of four major mountain bike events in Oregon during the summer of 2012, including both MBO weekends.

MBO hosted two three-day events in Oakridge in 2012, McNamee said, generating “$1.2 million in direct sales” in six days.

Factoring in the “trickle-down” effect of those sales, McNamee said MBO contributed an estimated total of $1.69 million to the local economy.

Quoting MBO founder Randy Dreiling, McNamee acknowledged that mountain biking “ain’t gonna save the world, but it can make a dent — [$1.2 million] in six days is pretty impressive.”

For more on VIFTF, visit the festival website.