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Route Talk With Ken Chichester

Ken Chichester

This month’s Route Talk covers the Weekend Ride, which is based at Willamette University in Salem. Master route planner Ken Chichester gives you the scoop on planning three routes a day for two days – all from the same spot.

Why did you choose these routes?

We had been at Western Oregon University for two years, and wanted a new location that still offered the ability to camp or use dorm rooms and have food provided by the host organization. There are a number of locations that meet those criteria, but another desire is to showcase Oregon State Parks, through our partnership on the Weekend event with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. Willamette University met our host-site needs, and a number of state parks are in the general Salem area.

What planning challenges were involved with this route?

In addition to the normal challenges associated with developing a bicycle route, the Weekend Ride has the challenge of developing alternative options. On the Weekend event, we need to have at least three options that meet needs for kids, families or those who don’t want an overly long or hilly ride, and finally a ride for those who do want a longer, more challenging ride. Ideally, all options should consist of a portion of the longest ride option, and all need to be a loop ride. The Willamette Valley generally has an extensive county and/or state road system that allows the ability to tie different options together.

Then there is the typical challenge of finding water, rest and lunch stops at locations that are spaced an appropriate distance apart from each other. These locations also need to be large enough so all cyclists can be far enough off the road to ensure their safety and the safety of regular roadway users. In the Willamette Valley, a concern commonly expressed when discussing a potential stop for a bicycle event is that farmers generally don’t see bicycles and farm equipment as compatible roadway users. Because we almost always have to request permission from agriculture-related private property owners in the Willamette Valley for stop locations, we become bicycle advocates with a sympathetic ear toward the concerns of agriculture. (Four stops during the weekend are located at agriculture-related businesses.)

Because of the potential for adverse comments from the agricultural community, I think this is an appropriate venue to remind Cycle Oregon participants of the need to remember we are all cycling ambassadors. When on the road, especially in such a large event as Cycle Oregon, we need to ride in a courteous and thoughtful manner that recognizes the need to share the road with other users. During the middle of July, many farmers and agriculture business are at the height of their harvesting or processing season, and need to get the feeling from us that Cycle Oregon participants are not a hindrance to their livelihood.

Can you provide a brief point-to-point description of this route?

On both mornings, the route begins the same, leaving Willamette University and heading north through Salem and Keizer to the area near the Keizer Station shopping center. At that point, the Saturday routes travel east and the Sunday routes travel north.


The Long Option uses a county road to ride past the Chemawa Indian School, soon to be celebrating its 125th birthday. It is the oldest continuously operating off-reservation boarding school in the United States, and is operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The student body typically consists of members from more than 60 tribes from the 16 Western states including Alaska, in grades 9 through 12.

The first stop is located at EZ Orchards, a family-owned farm market operating since 1929. After leaving the rest stop, the route travels adjacent to, and through, Lake Labish. The “lake,” consisting of black peat, extends northeast, about nine miles long and ranging in width from an eighth to a quarter of a mile. The peat, also known as “beaver-dam soil,” is practically level and is used today to produce mainly onions, celery and peppermint.

Beginning in the early 1900s, approximately 50 small Japanese family farms were in the Lake Labish area, until the owners were removed to internment camps during World War II.

Originally, the route visited the Gallon House covered bridge, built in 1917 and the last covered bridge in Marion County. However, during heavy rains this past winter, a portion of a county road was washed out by the Pudding River, so a detour will bypass the bridge en route to Silverton.

Both the Mid-length and Long options enter Silverton together. Those on the Mid-length route will go directly to the Oregon Garden for lunch, but Long-route riders will turn just before the Garden to ride to Silver Falls State Park for a rest stop. The Long Option route from Silverton consists of a near-constant climb of approximately seven miles from Silverton above Silver Creek before descending to the Silver Falls Highway.

After turning onto State Highway 214 (Silver Falls Highway), cyclists will enjoy another climb before descending into Silver Falls State Park. This park is the largest state park in Oregon (more than 9,000 acres), and provides camping, swimming and picnic areas, in addition to the Trail of Ten Falls, which leads hikers on a eight-mile loop past 10 waterfalls. After climbing out of the park, it’s all downhill to Silverton and lunch at the Oregon Garden.

After lunch, there is one short hill before returning to the floor of the Willamette Valley and the last stop at the Willamette Valley Fruit Company. Locally produced items are processed and sold at the facility, and visitors can also look through large windows for a Tillamook-Cheese-Factory-feel to watch pies being made from scratch.

The route continues through agricultural fields and enters Salem five miles before the finish, riding past the Oregon State Fairgrounds.

The Mid-Length Option leaves the Long Option route just prior to the entrance of the Oregon Garden. Those who choose this option will have lunch at the Garden, before joining the Long Option route to return to Salem.

The Short Option leaves the other two options shortly after Lake Labish, and travels on very low-traffic-volume roads before rejoining the Long and Mid-Length option riders at the Willamette Valley Fruit Company. After this rest stop, cyclists on this loop return to Willamette University for lunch.


Everyone on all three optional routes will travel together to the first rest stop at Schreiner’s Iris Gardens. The Schreiner family has devoted three generations and more than three-quarters of a century to breeding and growing iris flowers, and has earned numerous national and international awards for their tall bearded iris. Unfortunately, all the flowers will have bloomed before we arrive.

Those who choose the Long Option will travel north from the Iris Gardens on a mostly flat route, with no hills to climb (except for a couple steep short sections). This route uses River Road before turning to St. Louis for the second stop of the day at the St. Louis Catholic Church. The community of St. Louis no longer exists, but the original town was founded in 1845, and the church was built five years later. After leaving St. Louis, the route continues north through an area known as French Prairie, named for French Canadians who were employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the early 1800s. The route skirts the small community of Donald before arriving at Champoeg State Park for a rest stop. Champoeg is the location of Oregon’s first provisional government, formed in 1843.

After leaving Champoeg, riders will cross state Highway 219 and ride past the Heirloom Rose Gardens, containing more than 1,500 varieties of roses. The route parallels the Willamette River, although most of the time the river can’t be seen. The next stop is located in St. Paul, on the grass of the Monsignor’s Rectory of the St. Paul Catholic Church. After passing by the grounds of the St. Paul Rodeo, the route travels south to join the Mid-length Option just before riding to the Wheatland Ferry landing at the Willamette River.

Riders will use a bicycle path from the ferry landing into Willamette Mission State Park for lunch. The park occupies land where the first mission for American Indians was founded in 1834 by the Reverend Jason Lee.

After riding through the park, the route travels south toward Keizer and joins the Short Option to ride through the Mission Bottom farmland area to Keizer and Salem, returning to Willamette University.

The Mid-length Option separates from the Long Option five miles after the first stop at Schreiner’s Iris Gardens, and rides to the Wheatland Ferry landing and Willamette Mission State Park for lunch. Both routes then join to return to the university.

Those riding the Short Option leave the other two options about a mile and a half after the first stop at the Iris Gardens. This route takes a one-mile shortcut and joins the other two options 12 miles from the finish, where lunch will be served.


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  1. Champoeg is also interesting because on May 1, 1900, Governor T. T. Geer rode his bike from the Salem area to Champoeg to locate the site of the 1843 meeting for the brand-new Oregon Historical Society. Geer commuted by bike from his Macleay area farm to the Capitol, and in 1899 signed the first bike path legislation in Oregon. The routes unfortunately miss Geercrest Farm, where he and Homer Davenport spent much time growing up. Readers interested in more can find it here.