Communities gear up for onslaught of bicyclists

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

LEE COUNTY – With numbers wavering in the 10,000 to 15,000 mark, Lee County’s RAGBRAI communities are gearing up for fast-paced Saturday showcasing the history and benevolence of southeast Iowa.

RAGBRAI, The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, cyclists will be in Lee County from the early morning hours on Saturday until the Biggest Dam Dip on the Mississip in Keokuk, with official festivities wrapping up at 4. But many communities plan to keep the party going.

Riders will enter Lee County after an early morning start in downtown Burlington. Riders will head back west to Geode State Park and then head south on Bridgeport Road to Hwy. 16 west of Denmark. After stopping in Denmark, riders are scheduled to depart before noon and head south out of Denmark on X32 to J48 and then hook up with J40 west into West Point.

Katie Wilson, the RAGBRAI coordinator in West Point said everything all activities will be on the square in town beginning at 7 a.m.

“It’s gonna be party,” Wilson said Wednesday. “We’re gonna have our Mt. RAGBRAI set up again this year so everyone can be a part of that and we have eight vendors coming in and all the bars, Phil’s Pub, Aggies, The Legion, Corner Tap and Fourth Street, will all be open.”

Wilson said RAGBRAI officials ask the host towns to shut down when riders are expected to leave for the next location, but they can then open back up for the remainder of the day.

“They’ll have us shut down at about 1:30 p.m., but we’ll have Caleb Booten playing in the park from 1 to 4 p.m. and Will Stueckerjuergen will be DJ’ing from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m,” Wilson said.

“Once RAGBRAI gives us the thumbs up we’ll open back up. Once the majority is pushed through then they give us that OK and the bands will play til 4 p.m.”

Once out of West Point, riders will head to Franklin for a short stop before heading to Donnellson where Lee County Fair Board president Brock Westfall will be running in a pickle outfit.

Donnellson is what’s called a “Meet” Town where support teams park vehicles and meet up with riders. Kimberly Westfall, who’s coordinated most of the events said she’s expecting anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 people at any given time with close to 15,000 predicted for the day.

Riders need to be out of Donnellson by 2:30 and headed to Montrose, but prior to that cyclists will see a Small Town Big Dill greeting them as they head in from Hwy 2 after coming south out of Franklin on W78.

Franklin said she expects riders as early as 9 a.m. to the Lee County Fairgrounds and Donnellson is putting on a show so big it needs 70 volunteers to put it on.

With bands playing in the Entertainment Pavilion starting at 9 a.m., the town will feature a Red Neck pool, a 20’x70′ pool four feet deep with a 50-foot slip and slide. There will also be bicycle are on display and vendors working fundraisers and sales.

“In every town they like to sign something, so we’re putting our bright green Night of Mayhem car out and everyone gets to sign it…riders and the public in general,” Westfall said. “So come on out and beat the rush. Since we’re a meeting town you might want to get here before 9 a.m. because it may be a little tough getting in and out.”

In carrying with the theme, the Fair board will be selling pickle sandwiches which is basically a dill pickle cut in half and served under a burger, brat, chicken salad or club sandwich, all for just $5 each.

“We’ll have a bacon cheeseburger pickle sandwich, pickle wrap mixtures in a sandwich, chicken salad boats, smoothies, BBQ, tacos. You name it, we probably will have it,” Westfall said.

Several groups will use the event to help raise needed funds for non-profit operations including the Central Lee 4-H club’s petting zoo. The Michael Burke Foundation will also be on hand with an Angel Wing photo display. Burke was a Central Lee graduate who was killed on RAGBRAI in 2005 after a tree branch fell on his tent during a storm. The foundation offers scholarships to local students in Burke’s name.

Riders will then travel down Hwy. 218 to Peach Orchard Road where they will head in to “Mark their Twain” in Montrose.

Montrose, which is scheduled for a 3 p.m. departure for riders, is planning on filling up some bellies with more than 450 lbs of pulled pork and close to 1,000 brats.

Entertainment includes the Hissem Family Campfire on the Montrose Riverfront Stage and D’Allan Rice playing in the Gazebo. Riders will be able to experience the conservation of the river with Lee County Conservation district officials on hand and they can try their hands at antique steam whistles, see historic button cutting with mussel shells.

Nauvoo Pageant Bagpipe Band will be playing at the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on the way into town and historical shows will be available in the Heritage Center.

Town volunteers will also be serving up ice cream, smoothies, lemonade and other cold treats to riders as they head toward Keokuk on River Road south out of Montrose.

Beginning some time between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. the first cyclists will start to file into Keokuk before ultimately making their way to Victory Park to dip their tire in the Mississippi River to mark completion of Iowa’s annual cycling showcase.

Activities abound throughout town and throughout the day Saturday to celebrate the first time that the RAGBRAI has descended upon Keokuk since 1992.

The main Keokuk RAGBRAI festivities will occur when the annual ride ends with The Biggest Dam Dip on the Mississip. Cyclists will enter Keokuk from Mississippi River Road and continue through town to the Victory Park riverfront. Next to the dipsite the George M. Verity Riverboat Museum will be the site of a free live concert performed by local pop band Glitter Salad. That performance, upon the bow deck of the Verity, will take place from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Radio Keokuk will conduct its live remote broadcast throughout the day. Just beyond the band, riders will find the dipsite just south of Howard’s Boat Dock.

The Meierotto Shelter House will be the site of Main Street Keokuk, Inc.’s beverage garden, which is set to offer a variety of beverages including beers, seltzers, and a local craft beer option from V’s Brewpub. The garden will also feature the office RAGBRAI beer, Tailwind, brewed by Iowa City’s Big Grove Brewery. Vendors will be set up in the parking lot between the shelter house and riverfront and will feature a wide variety of food options including barbecue, gyros, vegetarian dishes, and concession style favorites.

Happening just down the road from the dip site, Southside Boat Club will host the 3rd Annual Musicians Memorial Benefit which will feature seven bands, food, auctions, games, and a whole lot more. Road closures will limit access to the Keokuk riverfront. Those interested in visiting the Southside Boat Club will be required to use Bank Street and access will be limited to passenger vehicles only. RVs, buses, and the like will not be permitted.

Keokuk RAGBRAI Festivities are scheduled to come to an end at 4PM on Saturday, July 27th.

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