BY LIZ FABIAN
After 30 years, Georgia tourism promoters have found a new way for folks to explore the Antebellum Trail.
The seven communities along the way developed a professionally designed bicycle route of about 180 miles.
Cyclists are encouraged to pedal through history on a path less traveled by motorized vehicles.
"There are people all over the world looking for things like this," said Robyn Elliott of Georgia Bicycle Adventures. "It's a great opportunity for people who live in the Macon area."
Elliott's company planned the trail which spotlights communities spared by General Sherman's March to the Sea.
Cyclists are encouraged to visit Athens, Watkinsville, Madison, Eatonton, Milledgeville, Gray and Macon.
"We identify what communities already have," Elliott said. "Bicycle tours are looking for beautiful, scenic roads."
Oregon, with its hundreds of bike routes, inspired her company, which now is working on new routes for DeKalb County.
She compares the work to window dressing for a store with a major warehouse: Selecting the best merchandise to showcase can lure people inside to shop.
By placing spotlighting tourism attractions on the route, avid cyclists are encouraged to stop and visit.
"They click on the guide, and they get a bigger picture of where they can stay and what they can do," she said.
People driving the Antebellum Tour often buzz by on U.S. 441 at the speed limit and miss a lot.
"We take you off that road and take you through the farms," Elliott said.
The bicycle trail can engage a new class of tourists, she said.
Georgia Bicycle Adventures also has routes in place for Atlanta and Fitzgerald, where three tours make a getaway weekend.
"Here's this little gem of a town, and there's great cycling down there," she said.
The Antebellum Trail and its interactive cue sites has been mapped out for about a year.
The website www.bikeantebellum.org offers a word of caution: "Bicyclists are responsible for their own safety. Most of the roadways on this map have no special facilities for bicycle travel."
College towns Athens and Milledgeville boast the most bike lanes along the route, it says.
In downtown Milledgeville, Oconee Outfitters co-owner Adam Heagy said he has noticed an increase in bicycle tourism.
"We're a seeing a little bit more traffic, but it's not like we have dozens of cyclists coming in each weekend," said Heagy, whose shop is in downtown Milledgeville.
Oconee Outfitters' Benny Watson actually designed the antebellum bike trail through Middle Georgia.
"I say between Gray and Macon is probably the jewel of all that," Watson said. "It's nice back roads that don't have a lot of traffic on them."
A book published last fall, "Atlanta to Savannah, a cyclist's guidebook" written by Eddie Shirey, is also increasing awareness of communities on the trail, Heagy said.
"This is a great area for cycling," he said. "It's pretty scenic with rolling terrain. We're not climbing mountains, but it's not flat where it's just pedal, pedal, pedal."
Watson, who said he never outgrew his childhood love of cycling, finds it relaxing.
"It's a good way to get away from all the things that bother you in life," he said.
Read more here: http://www.macon.com/2015/05/29/3771382_macon-milledgeville-gray-on-georgias.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy