A 350-mile bike ride route weaving through the Western Maine foothills and Belgrade Lakes region will cut through the heart of Kennebec County and include overnight stops in Winthrop and Gardiner.
The Bicycle Coalition of Maine announced the route Tuesday for its second annual BikeMaine event scheduled for September 6-13.
The seven-day event aims to promote bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly areas as well as bicycle tourism. Kim Anderson True, ride director for BikeMaine, said the nonprofit selected communities that support cyclist and walking infrastructure, and are part of the Maine Downtown Network or have shown to be able to work collaboratively to show what the community has to offer.
The communities also needed to have adequate space, preferably close to the downtown, to host the “traveling village” of almost 400 riders and volunteers, True said.
“When riders are downtown, they’re able to see what the community has to offer. Part of the reason we’re doing BikeMaine is to introduce people to communities in Maine they might not have been before,” she said.
On the second day of the trek, cyclists will stop at the YMCA Camp of Maine in Winthrop on Cobbossee Lake to camp overnight. Then, after traveling through Belgrade Lakes village and Oakland, the cyclists will bike down to Augusta and follow the Kennebec River Rail Trail to Gardiner and its Waterfront Park.
BikeMaine gives $4,000 to each overnight community to defray costs incurred during the event and provide funding for community groups that help serve meals for the riders, True said. Eventually, she said the organizers would like the event to be profitable so it can give excess money to the communities in the form of grants to help pay for bicycle and pedestrian initiatives.
True said the riders, who often have some disposable income, will usually make purchases at stores and restaurants in the communities they visit. About a quarter of the riders usually look to stay at inns and hotels during the overnight stays, while the others stay at the designated camps. She said studies have shown bicycle tourists tend to spend more than other visitors, partly because they can’t bring as many supplies.
The director of economic and community development for Gardiner, Nate Rudy, said he’s looking forward to the influx of almost 400 riders and volunteers visiting the city’s Waterfront Park and downtown businesses.
“This is an opportunity for us to showcase to, I think, an eclectic group of really determined bike riders everything we’ve been saying about Gardiner, what makes Gardiner great,” he said. “We get to showcase that for them in the downtown. We get to bring all of our community organizations who have been working so great through Heart & Soul together again.”
Heart & Soul is a two-year community planning project that recently concluded.
“Everything that I love about Gardiner is going to be highlighted for the bike riders,” Rudy said.
Gardiner City Council amended its overnight camping ordinance in January after being asked by BikeMaine organizers if it was interested in being one of the overnight locations.
True said they chose Gardiner for its active downtown revitalization Main Street program, the historical downtown and the connection to the Rail Trail. “I think there’s just a vibrancy in Gardiner that’s developed over the past several years that we think our riders are really going to enjoy,” she said.
True said organizers decided to stay at the YMCA Camp of Maine in Winthrop because of the tradition of summer camps in the state and because riders enjoyed last year’s stop at the YMCA’s Camp Jordan in Ellsworth.
The town manager of Winthrop, Jeffrey Woolston, said it’s nice the event is stopping in town, and he’s heard from many residents who plan to take part in the ride.
BikeMaine costs $875 to register, plus additional fees for tent and porter service. Registration, which is through the event’s website, will be capped at 350 riders.
Last year, 251 riders from 37 states and Canadian provinces took part in the inaugural BikeMaine ride that took cyclists from Orono to Dover-Foxcroft to the coast near Belfast and up to Bar Harbor, before returning to Orono, according to True.