Background

Bia這wie瘸 Primeval Forest is an ancient woodland on the border between Belarus and Poland, one of the last and largest remaining parts of the European Plain primeval forest. Part of the Forest is protected as a National Park; it has the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. In 2007 WWF commissioned a study on cycling tourism as a part of a project “Forest for Bicycles”. The project aimed for sustainable development of the area, especially – making tourism a viable alternative to logging as a source of income, and at the same time protecting the nature.

The study presents the current state of cycling infrastructure, its usage, the potential for development and the main barriers to overcome. The main sources of data were: testing of existing marked cycling trails, bicycle traffic measurements in the region and a questionnaire for the tourists visiting Bia這wie瘸 Forest. Data was collected and processed by Zielone Mazowsze (Green Mazovia), an environmental NGO with 10 years of expertise in cycling promotion and development. Although the analysis is done for a very specific area, many of the problems seems to be typical for cycling tourism in Poland and the conclusions can be easily generalised.

Current state of cycling trails

A number of problems with cycling trails routing, signposting and maintenance have been identified and documented. Basically every trail contains sections non-passable by fully-laden tourist bikes, for example sandy or muddy. The marked trails do not form any clear, consistent, easy to navigate system. Current marking is insufficient at route junctions, is often hidden by tree branches or other greenery and is poorly visible in darker hours. There are also problems caused by using the trails for logging, as well as by unrestricted private car access.

Cycle traffic measurement

The cycle traffic was measured in 34 road or trail crossings in and around the Forest. The observed numbers varied between 0 and 40 cyclists per hour. The routes most often used by the cyclists are the roads connecting Bia這wie瘸 – the entrance point to the National Park – with other centres of the region (Hajn闚ka, Narewka) and well-known attractions outside the Park (e.g. the esoteric Site of the Power or the Royal Oaks). It should be noted that the popular routes generally follow the universal criteria of cohesion, directness, attractiveness and – as far as it is possible without any dedicated cycling infrastructure – safety and comfort. These criteria seem to be as important for tourists, as they are for commuter cyclists.

There are quite a few marked cycling trails used virtually by no-one, with significantly less than 1 cyclist per hour, even in the peak season. The trails should be re-routed or removed, as their usage is not worth their maintenance and promotion; and lack of maintenance is bad for the general perception of marked cycling trails.

The measurement also identified routes which are popular among the cyclists despite the fact they are not marked. These should be signed and improved, to ensure safety and comfort of usage.

Cycle traffic volumes on selected roads and trails in the Bia這wie瘸 Forest.

Survey results

According to the survey among the visitors, there is a huge potential for cycling tourism in and around Bia這wie瘸 Forest. The tourists consider the landscape and nature of the region to be outstanding, and the bicycle – the best way to get to know the region. Most of the them come back after the first visit; more than a half visited the region at least three times. On the other hand, the Bialowie瘸 Forest, despite its heritage site status, is still rather a regional than national or international attraction, attracting mostly visitors from the nearest large cities – Bia造stok and Warsaw.

In order for development of cycling tourism, more attention should be paid to:

1. Public transport, both long-distance and local, with special respect to possibilities of carrying bikes on trains and buses.

2. Road traffic management, to prevent cars from endangering cyclists and penetrating sensitive areas.

3. The quality of board and accommodation.

4. The quality routing and signposting of marked cycle trails, to take into account the preferences of the cyclists and to avoid duplicating the hiking trails system.

5. Surfacing of the main cycle trails, to ensure their suitability not only for one-day recreation, but also long-distance cycle tourism.