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Valley to welcome 450 bicyclists next week for BikeMaine event

FORT KENT, Maine — The St. John Valley will become a bit more populated next week when 450 bicyclists participating in a BikeMaine tour roll into local towns.

The participants will visit central and northern Aroostook County as they embark on a 320-mile ride averaging more than 50 miles each day.

The bicyclists will begin their journey in Presque Isle on Sept. 9 for a ride over to Caribou, where they will spend the night. They will then leave Caribou for Madawaska on Sept. 10 with a layover day in Madawaska on Sept. 11, camping out at the Madawaska Multi-Purpose Center.

Suzie Paradis, Madawaska’s director of economic and community development, has arranged for plenty of activities the visitors can enjoy during their stay in that town, including games and events from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and an outdoor barbecue.

“We have ATV/four-wheeler rides being offered; they will have the option to choose a morning or afternoon trail ride. A tour of Twin Rivers paper will take place at 1 p.m., and tours of Four Corners park from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.,” Paradis said.

Pontoon boat rides will be offered on Long Lake from the Birch Point beach beginning at 11 a.m. or 12:30 a.m.

For the cyclists who brought their passports, “We have a few buses available to take [them] at 10 a.m. to the Botanical Gardens [in Edmundston, New Brunswick], then to Grand Falls to visit the falls,” Paradis said. “On Monday evening we are encouraging the cyclists to go visit downtown and go out to eat at all restaurants. We have asked all restaurants to open on Monday and Tuesday, which will be great.”

DJ Adam will perform on Monday evening from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. at Big Rick’s Restaurant. A beer and wine garden will be featured at the Multi-Purpose Building from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday followed by a performance that evening by the band Roxxu.

Orchids restaurant has a special menu for Monday evening and will be open for a breakfast buffet on Tuesday morning and Chez Helens restaurant will be open all day Monday and Tuesday.

The bicyclists will hit the road once again on Sept. 12 for Fort Kent, where they will spend the night in a tent village at Riverside Park complete with portable showers and plenty of entertainment, including a performance by the band French Toast that evening. A cornhole tournament will take place at 6:30 p.m. that Wednesday at Riverside Park.

On Sept. 12 and 13 at 3 p.m., the bicyclists will have the opportunity to participate in a tour of the University of Maine at Fort Kent Acadian Archives, the Fort Kent Historical Society museums, and the Fort Kent Outdoor Center; to take guided local walking tours through town or up Lonesome Pine Trails ski hill or to visit the First Mile Brewery on Market Street.

On Sept. 13, the bicyclists will travel to Allagash and back along Route 161, although there will be a shorter, alternate ride that day into New Brunswick and around Lac-Baker for those who prefer that route.

BikeMaine and the Maine Outdoor Film Festival will offer a free film festival to the bicyclists as well as to members of the public on Thursday, Sept. 13, beginning at 8 p.m. at the Lions Pavilion at Riverside Park.

Fort Kent Police Chief Tom Pelletier said his department is prepared to handle the influx of bicyclists.

“We are going to have extra officers on duty to help with the flow of things and ensure the bicyclists have a safe and pleasurable experience while on the northern Maine roads,” Pelletier said.

On Sept. 14, the cyclists will ride over to St. Agatha, where they will stay at the Lakeview Campground, and on Sept. 15 they will depart from St. Agatha to ride back to Presque Isle.

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine, a nonprofit membership organization with more than 5,000 members, sponsors the BikeMaine event annually.

“This is by far the largest event that we will have this year in Fort Kent,” said George Dumond, who organized the local activities for the bicyclists. “This will be a nice shot in the arm for this community. The bicyclists will not only be visiting the stuff we lined up for them, but will also be walking around checking out shops and restaurants [in town].”

Fort Kent Outdoor Center president and bicycling enthusiast Carl Theriault, who has volunteered for the BikeMaine event in the past, said he hopes the Aroostook County event will spur bike tourism in the area.

“In the immediate, it will bring people to town, but we’re hopeful for a lasting development. We hope people will travel here to ride,” he said. “These are hardcore bicyclists.”

Last year’s event, which took place in Somerset County, brought in $660,000 to its host communities, according to the BikeMaine website.

This is the first time that the Bicycle Coalition of Maine will host BikeMaine in Aroostook County.

For more information about BikeMaine and this year’s route, visit http://ride.bikemaine.org/.

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