EMU Welcomes Some 2,000 ‘Spokesmen’

It was a welcome invasion of Harrisonburg, Va.

Bike Virginia, the Shenandoah Expedition brought some 2,000 bicycling enthusiasts to “The Friendly City” as part of a five-day tour that began Friday evening, June 25, in Staunton, 25 miles to the south.

BikeWalk Virginia, a nonprofit organization that promotes bicycle and pedestrian safety, runs the annual tour.

bikers on Park Road
Cyclists head out Park Road to byways of Rockingham and Shenandoah counties.

“This was a fun ride, not a race,” said Brenda Black, manager of Harrisonburg Tourism and Visitor Services in Harrisonburg. “The tour is designed as a recreational event, not fast-pace line riding. Cyclists came in all sizes, shapes and ages.”

Black noted that Bike Virginia travels the Commonwealth in cycles — “no pun intended.” Their last ride through Harrisonburg and Rockingham County was in 2004.

While many of the cyclists stayed in hotels throughout the area, between 850-950 took up residence Monday and Tuesday in a “Tent City” that stretched across the campus of Eastern Mennonite University.

tent city
More than 900 Bike Virginia participants turned the EMU campus into “Tent City” for two night’s lodging. (Lindsey Kolb)

Departing from EMU both days, bikers selected from a variety of “loop routes” of varying degrees of difficulty and rode throughout the scenic, rolling countrysides of Rockingham and Shenandoah counties.

Cyclists were invited to visit the downtown area, take guided walking tours and attend open houses at the Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center with refreshments.

Monday night, Downtown Renaissance held an event billed as “Bike Bash in the Burg” to showcase the downtown area for riders and community members. The celebration, which featured a welcome from Mayor Kai Degner, food and a concert by “Everyday People,” took place on the grassy lot near the Farmers Market Pavilion on S. Liberty St.

two bikers review bike route
Emily (l.), a first time Bike Virginia participant from Gainesville, Fla., reviews the day’s bike route with Jackie, from Norfolk, Va.

May group members ate breakfast and evening meals June 28-29 at EMU. They held a talent show in Lehman Auditorium and watched an exclusive screening of Stephen Auerbach’s award-winning film, “The Race Across America — Bicycle Dreams”.

Wednesday, the bikers returned to Staunton for a finish line celebration.

“Overall, the event went well, considering how many people we hosted on campus,” said Lynn A. Veurink, assistant director of auxiliary services at EMU. “It was rather chaotic at first, as people set up tents in the first shady locations they could find rather than checking in, but once we worked that out, things seemed to go quite smoothly. Our facilities, especially the University Commons, got a workout, and number of people expressed appreciation for EMU‘s hospitality.”

Bike Virginia estimated the event brought $3.1 million dollars in economic benefit to the area.