By Robb Murray
---- — MANKATO — They weren't prepared for it. But they're sure glad it happened.
Organizers of the Mankato River Ramble say the event has grown quicker than expected. They're reaching more people than they ever thought they would, and they believe the event has contributed significantly to the number of people who choose to ride bikes instead of cars.
They've also been able to return some of the love the community has shown them by contributing financially to like-minded projects.
The Mankato River Ramble, scheduled for Oct. 6, is quickly becoming one of the area's biggest community events.
"The reason we started doing this is to encourage Mankato area citizens to ride," River Ramble organizer Tom Engstrom said. "And what we've found is that we think there are more people riding. Look at Visit Mankato's logo. It has a rider on it. Now, to say we caused that, I don't think that's the case. But I think we played a part. ... It's about developing the idea that Mankato is a good place to ride."
The Mankato River Ramble offers three different distances for riders of all abilities and ambitions. The shortest is a 12-mile loop that meanders around Minneopa Falls. The mid-range ride (26 miles) adds to the Minneopa ride by taking a detour out to Rapidan for a stop at the Dam Store. And the long ride, a 42-mile journey that Engstrom says is the one most often chosen by participants, covers some of the Minneopa ride (including the jaunt to Rapidan), but then heads out County Road 9 to Lake Crystal, north to Judson, then back to Land of Memories Park where all the rides begin.
Three rest stops are in place, each with live music and food to entertain riders.
New this year will be an option to head over to the Lincoln Park Neighborhood for a visit to the Betsy and Tacy houses, the real-live dwellings of Maud Hart Lovelace and her best friend, which have been restored to their original charm by the Betsy-Tacy Society of Mankato. Betsy-Tacy Society members will be on hand to give tours and answer questions any riders may have.
The Betsy and Tacy detour was added because of feedback River Ramble coordinators got from last year's riders. When asked in a survey if they'd like to have that included in the ride, many riders enthusiastically said yes.
Success for the River Ramble — they had about 1,200 riders the first year, 1,600 the second — allowed the group to be generous with groups with missions that mirror their own.
They paid for six map kiosks around area trails, helped cover the cost of a well to be dug near the community gardens along the Red Jacket Trail near Mount Kato, helped fund Bike and Walk to School day last spring and have given money to Mankato area Mountain Bikers in their efforts to rehabilitate what used to be a dog park pen into mountain biking trails.
The group still needs volunteers. As of this week they had 60 volunteers and figure they'll need about 110. Volunteers handle everything from registration, feeding riders, and serving as course and road marshals.
If you go What Mankato River Ramble, a bike ride around the Mankato area When Oct. 6. Check in begins at 8 a.m. and riders can begin by 8:15 a.m. All riders must be on the trail by 10:15 a.m. Where Ride begins and ends in Land of Memories Park Cost Registration is required by Oct. 1 and is $32 for adults and $10 for kids. Helmets are required.