Gaston County runners are a "persistent, passionate, and competitive" group, according to Philip McGinnis, and this year they will be able to put all of those attributes to work in the 18-race Run Gaston competition.

McGinnis, who manages and does marketing efforts for the Run Gaston series, briefed members of the Greater Gaston Chamber of Commerce at a Wednesday breakfast meeting, as did Gaston Travel and Tourism Director Michael Applegate, who spoke about the county's bike share program.

Both efforts are part of the larger GO Gaston marketing effort, which aims not only at attracting outside tourist dollars to Gaston County but also encourages Gaston residents to take advantage of the wealth of outdoor destinations and activities available here.

The Run Gaston race series will begin on the evening of Friday, April 13, with the YMCA Cherry Blossom 5K in downtown Cherryville, and will end with the Carolinas HealthCare System Girls on the Run Fall 5K on Saturday, Dec. 1.

"For a race to be part of the series," McGinnis explained, "they must utilize a professional time-keeping company and, of course, they have to be here in Gaston County."

Times and scores from each of the races will be compiled, McGinnis continued, and the top finishers will be honored at a party toward the end of the year.

"We are looking for sponsors - restaurants, breweries, businesses - to help with that banquet in December," he said. "This year, we want to get the basics right, have races all across the county, and then, hopefully, build on that success and add more races in the years ahead."

Bike Share Program

Before presenting information on the bike share program, Applegate prefaced his remarks by talking about what a booming industry outdoor tourism is and how Gaston County is perfectly positioned to be a part of that boom.

"No one in the Charlotte region has a more authentic story than Gaston County," he said. "From the waters of the Catawba River to the top of Crowders Mountain, we have the places and activities that people are looking for."

Go Gaston has partnered with the private company, Zagster, to provide five bike rental stations around the county -- the Gaston County Visitors Center in Belmont, Dallas Park, the Highland Rail Trail at the corner of Broad and Long streets in downtown Gastonia, Poston Park just north of Lowell, and Lineberger Park on Garrison Boulevard.

Users of the bike share program simply download the Zagster app on their smart phones and then use that app to unlock a bike and to lock it again when finished.

Applegate said 520 people have downloaded that app since the program was launched last Memorial Day and that 763 rides have been done.

To commemorate the program's first anniversary, Go Gaston will be conducting a rider sweepstakes during the month of May, with each rider being entered to win the grand prize -- a $600 foldable bike. An entry into the contest will be made for each ride taken.

Applegate said he is hopeful that in the future the bike share program will be used not only for recreational riding but for point-to-point transportation within the county. For that to occur, emphasis must be place on extending greenways, making sidewalks wider in some locales, and building bike lanes on busy streets.

Bill Poteat may be reached at 704-869-1855.