A quarter of a century ago an Ashland innkeeper planted a seed that continues to grow across Oregon.

A quarter of a century ago an Ashland innkeeper planted a seed that continues to grow across Oregon.

Consider this: Since 1987, when Jim Beaver proposed what became Cycle Oregon, 44,000 riders have pedaled more than 20 million miles across Oregon, pouring more than $137 million into the state.

"It's incredibly humbling," said Beaver, now 64, of his idea's legacy. "It's like Johnny Appleseed planting a seed. It has turned into a giant apple orchard across the state.

"But it was an idea whose time had come," he added. "I just happened to be the lucky guy who thought of it."

The silver anniversary ride of Cycle Oregon begins Sunday in Bly and ends there on Sept. 15.

Back in 1987, Beaver was on the Ashland Visitor and Convention Advisory Board and was attending a meeting in a conference room at the Daily Tidings newspaper. The event was a brainstorming session on how to promote a proposed sister city relationship between Ashland and Astoria.

Drawing on memories of a biking tour he and his wife, Nancy, had made in Europe in 1979 and a magazine article about a bike ride across Iowa that drew 7,000 riders, Beaver figured a bike ride from Ashland to Astoria was the answer.

"If they could get 7,000 to ride across cornfields in Iowa, imagine what we could get in Oregon?" he recalled thinking. "We have beautiful forest trails, whitewater rivers, incredible beaches, just amazing scenery."

His idea was picked up by Oregonian newspaper columnist Jonathan Nicholas. His column, which included an interview with Beaver, prompted Debby Kennedy, head of tourism promotion in the state office of economic development, to contact Beaver.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

The first event was from Salem to Brookings. And Beaver was working and couldn't take time off for the ride.

But the following year — Cycle Oregon II — he rode in the Portland-to-Ashland tour as the "ambassador" for the event.

The bright idea of Beaver's has lost none of its luster: The 2,200 riding slots available for Cycle Oregon XV sold out in 31 minutes, according to Jerry Norquist, Cycle Oregon's executive director. In addition to the record time for filling the openings, the 500-person waiting list was filled in an additional 40 minutes, he added.

"We are where we are today because of Jim — he made it a reality," Norquist said. "He came up with the idea. He saw the opportunity."

To honor Beaver and the anniversary, the 25th annual event will tour through Southern Oregon Sunday, spending two nights in Ashland.

"We're getting back to our roots," Norquist said.

Beginning in Bly on Sept. 9, the riders will spend their first night in Silver Lake, some 70 miles north. On Sept. 10 they pedal southwest to historic Fort Klamath where they stay overnight. On Sept. 11, they will ride up to the rim of Crater Lake where they can take a lap around the lake before coasting much of the way down to Prospect where they will spend their third night.

They will ride to Ashland on Sept. 12 where they will have a two-night layover. Participants on Sept. 13 can rest or ride to the Mount Ashland ski area. A ceremony will be held that evening to honor Beaver.

Cycle Oregon heads east on the morning of Sept. 14 via Dead Indian Memorial Road to spend the night in Klamath Falls. On Sept. 15, the riders head back to Bly to complete their tour of Southern Oregon.

Cycle Oregon has a Facebook page, a Flickr page for photos and a Twitter feed. Event organizers are providing riders with a mobile technology station that will allow them to post updates and photos.

Like past Cycle Oregons, the 2012 event will inject much-needed money into small towns while supporting cycling and Oregon tourism by providing riders with a beautiful perspective of the state, Norquist indicated.

He likened the event to a traveling town that includes thousands of camping tents, a huge dining tent, a concert stage, beer garden, retail tents, food and drink vendors, facilities for massage, yoga and acupuncture, and portable showers and toilets.

"We have 130 volunteers who travel with us," Norquist observed, adding that it takes hundreds of other volunteers throughout the state to pull the event off each year.

"There are so many people who contribute to Cycle Oregon each year," he said.

Meanwhile, two riders who will be participating this year are Jim and Nancy Beaver.

"It's a big challenge — I'm not in condition for it," Jim Beaver said. "I had to borrow a bicycle and riding clothes. But I'll be wearing the same shoes I rode in our bike tour in Europe in 1979."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail pfattig@mailtribune.com.