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  • Posted Jun 14, 2004

20 years of Trail Blazing along the scenic Mississippi riverfront trails.


The Ride the River take place on June 20th 2004. Find out more HERE

By John Willard Quad City Times In the early 1980s, when depressed farm prices sent the Quad-Cities’ manufacturing economy into a tailspin, some citizens looked to the Mississippi River for salvation. . The river offered recreational possibilities for visitors and residents alike, they reasoned, and it could be a source of community pride. A first step toward developing riverfront trails and other amenities to improve access might be a special event to get people excited about the river. . Wheels started to turn. . Why not organize a Father’s Day bicycle tour that would take riders along the river on both the Iowa and Illinois sides, with a boat ride thrown in to boot? . Ride the River was born. . Twenty years later, Ride the River has become a Quad-City summer tradition. Not only has it provided Father’s Day fun for thousands, but it has raised $100,000 toward financing riverfront amenities ranging from the Channel Cat water taxi to bicycle ramps on the Arsenal Bridge. . This year’s ride, set for Sunday, promises to be bigger and better than ever, what with a picnic lunch, birthday cake and a host of rest stops offering freebees and other fun. . As the ride celebrates its 20th anniversary, let’s pedal back to its beginning. . The stage was set in 1983 when the Junior League of the Quad-Cities launched its Year of the River campaign to raise awareness of the Mississippi River through such events as tours of a working towboat. The following year, the league hosted a Midwest Urban Waterfront Conference that attracted participants from 13 states. . Among the ideas coming out of the conference included a network of riverfront trails that would serve, in the words of a Detroit consultant, as “the string connecting the community’s jewels.” . To enlist community support for such projects, river promoters went to the QUAD-CITY TIMES. During a brainstorming session in the office of Dan Hayes, the Times’ editor, the idea for a 20-mile bicycle ride encompassing the four major Quad-Cities, with a river crossing by boat, came up. The newspaper agreed to join the Junior League in sponsoring the Father’s Day event, which was dubbed “Ride the River.” The Quad-City Bicycle Club offered support. Registration fees would go toward construction of riverfront trails in Quad-City communities. . The original route followed River Drive from Davenport’s LeClaire Park to the Bettendorf Levee, where riders and their bicycles were put on the excursion boat Mississippi Belle for a trip across the river to the Ben Butterworth Memorial Parkway in Moline. The route continued to East Moline and back down river for a swing along the Rock Island Arsenal bicycle trail before crossing the Centennial Bridge and ending at LeClaire Park. . The tour was announced on April 11, 1985. By mid May, more than 4,000 people had signed up, the Times reported. “We knew it would be big, but we didn’t expect this kind of response,” Kathy Wine, a Junior League member and organizer, told the newspaper. . Despite logistical challenges that included scouring the Quad-Cities to find enough cones to form bicycle lanes on city streets and loading hundreds of bicyclists on the boat, the ride was hailed as a success. “As far as the concept goes – 5,000 people enjoying a beautiful day – you can’t beat it. It’s a great day for the family,” one rider said. . In 1986, Ride the River returned under the sponsorship of the Times and River Action Inc., a new non-profit company established to promote riverfront activities and improvement. Founded by Wine, Paddy Blackman and Priscilla Parkhurst, River Action has completed riverfront projects ranging from art work to water drainage. The newspaper and River Action continue to sponsor the Ride the River, along with the support of a half-dozen other businesses and organizations. . Ride the River has survived floods, bridge construction and a wind sheer that destroyed its headquarters tent one year. Only once has it been canceled – in 1990 when Duck Creek flooding in Davenport sapped law enforcement resources. . Wine, who today is executive director of River Action, said Ride the River endures because the price is right, because it is a good family activity and because Quad-City riverfronts have undergone much development in the 20 years since the first ride was held. . “We have a lively riverfront, and people like to be part of a lively riverfront,” she said. . John Willard can be contacted at (563) 383-2314 or jwillard@qctimes.com. Source: http://www.qctimes.com/internal.php?story_id=1029492&t=Columnists&c=58,1029492

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