Bicycling in Wisconsin is likely to take a hit in the next transportation budget, but “will not be forgotten” as a tourist attraction.
Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett made that pledge Tuesday morning, during her appearance at the opening of the 2011 Wisconsin Bike Summit in Madison, a gathering of several hundred bicyclists, retailers and advocates.
In her short presentation, Klett showed off a solid knowledge of the state’s bike trails and the girth of its residents – information she gathered from her 17 years as a host of the Discover Wisconsin travel shows.
Noting that she’s traveled over a million miles, eaten worms in Amherst Junction and attended the International Wood Tick races in Oxbo, Klett said: “I know what the people of Wisconsin look like. I have never seen a group this skinny in the entire state.”
The former beauty queen (Miss Wisconsin 1992) opened with jokes like that and finished with a promise to promote bicycling through her department’s marketing campaign.
There’s money to be made in that endeavor.
Travel in Wisconsin generates about $1.4 billion in state tax revenue and the biking industry in the state has an economic impact estimated to top $1 billion annually.
Despite those numbers and the state’s extensive bike paths, Klett said she couldn’t remember the last time biking was part of a tourism ad.
In the next two years, her department should have more money to change that.
Gov. Scott Walker has proposed to increase the tourism promotion budget to $14 million in the 2012 fiscal year and $16.4 million in 2013. In the current year, the budget for tourism promotion was about $13 million, according to state budget figures.In her talk, Klett singled out the Elroy-Sparta, the Ahnapee and the Old Abe State Trail, and the historic Washington Park Velodrome in Kenosha, which opened at a time when bicycling held a much higher stature in the state and the country.
“We need to bring that era back to Wisconsin,” Klett said.
Following the opening speeches, the advocates organized by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin met with legislators to lobby for money for bike paths and adoption of a vulnerable user law in the state.
In his 2012-'13 budget, Walker eliminated $2.5 million in state money dedicated each year to bike and pedestrian paths.