Each year since 1973, Iowans have anxiously awaited the March announcement of the towns chosen to host riders during the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.
For these towns, the weeklong ride is not only an opportunity to showcase its best amenities, delicacies and hospitality — it’s considered quite the honor, as well.
In the last two decades, many communities within Jasper County have been presented with this opportunity: riders crowded the Courthouse Square in Newton in the hopes of meeting Lance Armstrong in 2006 before rolling through Reasnor, Sully and Lynnville. In 2001, RAGBRAI took cyclists through Mingo, Ira and Baxter en route to Grinnell. More recently, riders passed through Baxter before stopping midway in Colfax during the 2011 ride.
One local community, however, hadn’t been included along RAGBRAI’s route for more than 20 years.
In 1992, RAGBRAI riders passed through Monroe on their way to Oskaloosa. Now, more than two decades later, riders will again converge on the town of 1,800 — and this time, they’ll do more than just zip through town.
While the routes had not been finalized at press time, it was announced on March 9 that between overnight stops in Des Moines and Knoxville, RAGBRAI riders will pass through Adelphi and Runnells before making a midday stop in Monroe on July 24.
According to Monroe City Administrator & Economic Development Director Matthew Mardesen, the announcement has the town quite riled up.
“Oh, they’re excited,” he said. “Lots of the civic groups around the community and even the little league is excited. With this comes an opportunity to really showcase our community.”
While many of the details — including the exact routes in and out of town — have yet to be determined, Mardesen explained that plenty of planning is in the works.
“They’re putting together a RAGBRAI committee as we speak,” he explained. “What we’re planning to do at this point is to have local people who know the community well step up and get a better idea of everything that needs to happen.”
Following an official RAGBRAI meeting in Knoxville, Monroe will hold an open meeting at 7 p.m. at City Hall on April 10 to both disseminate the information provided by RAGBRAI as well as gather suggestions and feedback from the community.
Colfax finds profit, pride in 2011 pass-through
With a route that changes rather drastically each year, Colfax’s place on the RAGBRAI map in both 2006 and 2011 was a bit of a rarity; however, the prior experience the city had hosting riders proved valuable to the most recent stop through town.
“This last time (2011) was the most community focused” Julia Kern of Colfax Main Street Inc. explained. “In 2006, they just rode along the edge of town, but this last time they came through downtown and I want to say we had about 50 vendors. A lot of the businesses spruced up their buildings for the riders, and a lot of the non-profits made good money.”
Brenda Pierce, co-chair of Colfax’s Pass-through Town Committee, agreed, detailing just how much work went into accommodating 40,000-plus hungry cyclists.
“It’s really overwhelming,” she said with a laugh. “It takes months and months of planning ... there are lots of details that each pass-through community has to consider and comply with. It takes a lot of volunteer time and organization, but it’s really, really good for the community. We had feedback after RAGBRAI about what a nice community we had. It kind of all pulled us together for a busy, but really fun day.”
Pierce explained that, while the economic impact of hosting the riders is significant, the ride brings more to the community than just tourism dollars.
“It’s wonderful how something like that can pull a community together,” she said. “You get to work with people you haven’t had the chance to work with before, and you build pride in your community in pulling together and having something so positive come of that.”
Pierce added that the day of the pass-through served as chance for everyone in Colfax to show off a little bit.
“We have a downtown clean-up a couple times a year, but everyone was especially vigilant before RAGBRAI,” she said. “Everyone in the community was made aware of the route and encouraged to spruce up, clean up and plant a few extra flowers. People tried very hard; you’d even have kids on their front lawns trying to sell lemonade – people really went the extra mile.”
It’s this threefold benefit to the community — economic, community-building and community pride — that Mardesen hopes RAGBRAI’s riders will inspire within Monroe.
While he explained that much of the planning will kick off at the April 10 meeting, he does have one specific benchmark in mind.
“In 1992, we were voted the best pass-through city, so that adds a little more pressure,” he joked.
Staff writer Nicole Wiegand may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 422, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.