Dallas County Conservation Director Mike Wallace calls the celebration to mark the finish of the Raccoon River Valley Trail’s north loop "bigger than a 10 minute ribbon-cutting."
That’s why the event to celebrate the trail, known usually as RRVT, on June 1 will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and include a poker ride, bike rodeo, DJ music at the trail head at Caboose Park in Perry, demonstrations, competitions amongst bicycle teams, a visit and photos with the RRVT Raccoon mascot, master of ceremonies, Chuck Offenburger, a columnist and author, and keynote speaker Kevin Cooney, news anchor from KCCI, TV8.
"We’ve had ribbon cuttings in other trail communities when various pieces of the trail were completed, but when this most recent section was completed, it created the longest paved loop trail in the United States as far as we know now," Wallace said. "Trails are by nature linear and there re variations of loops created by simply making connections between two linear trails, but this is a true paved loop."
He talked with other officials and they wanted to make this a big deal and started putting together some ideas. They didn’t want to just have people drive to Perry, listen to a few people talk, and then get in their cars and leave. "Instead we have set up a series of events from the morning to early afternoon," Wallace said.
Perry was selected as the host community for the event for a couple of main reasons. "We had already done a ribbon cutting at other communities such as Waukee and Dallas Center, also when the Perry to Dawson stretch was completed, so we tried to pick a mid-point," Wallace said. "Perry is close to a mid-point and it is a large enough community to have amenities for visitors and a very nice location."
Invitations have gone out to biking organizations of all types across Iowa, and Wallace is expecting a number of bike teams to ride to Perry and take part in the festivities. One draw is the Poker Ride, the first event of the day. Cyclists pick up a card at one of the towns or places the trail goes near or through. At the end of the ride, the best poker hand wins.
Wallace is also hoping the teams will get into the three competitions being offered – the team bus contest, the team members contest and the best costume contest. The deadline to sign up for these contests is 11:30 a.m. the day of the ride.
"Prizes will be given to the team with the most team members in their club jersey; the best-decorated team bus; and for the best individual costume," he said. Organizers wanted to make the event feel like a RAGBRAI pass-through event for the participants. That’s why there also will be food vendors and other vendors and displays, music and more.
The Grand Opening ceremonies will take place at noon, with the parade of flags. "We’ve created a flag for each community the trail passes through," Wallace said. "The mayors or other dignitaries from each trail community will come forward and place the community flags in a holder."
The idea is to create the symbolism showing the trail system and the network of communities it creates, he said.
The RRVT was begun in 1989, when the first section from Waukee to Yale was paved. Then the trail was extended from Yale to Jefferson. The remainder of the trail began to take shape when railroad right of way came up for abandonment. Through a lengthy process that included negotiation with the Union Pacific Railroad beginning in 2004-2005, the remaining old railroad bed was acquired for use as a trial. Construction on the 33-mile section of the loop began in 2008. The last piece to be finished this week was paving from Dawson to Herndon.
The loop trail now travels through Jamaica, Dawson, Perry, Minburn, Dallas Center, Waukee, Adel, Redfield, Linden, Panora, Yale, and Herndon to form the loop, and extends up through Cooper and Jefferson. The trail also connects to the Des Moines metro trails, which can be ridden into downtown Des Moines.
"While people most often talk about the trail in terms of bicycle use, it is actually a multi-use trail," Wallace said. "People can bike the trail, walk, run, ski in the winter and even skateboard."
He’s already seeing the completion of the trail begin to draw visitors. Over one of the warmer April weekends, a couple from Minneapolis, Minn., discovered the trail on the Internet and decided to come to the area for the weekend. They rented a cabin at Sportsman Park near Dawson, which is just a few feet from the trail, Wallace said. They used the cabin as their home base and explored the RRVT and surrounding communities, including Forest Park and Museum in Perry.