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Bikefest moves to the country

After 11 years of Bikefest being held on “borrowed ground,” the promoters of the annual event will finally host the thousands of biking enthusiasts at their own site.

Since its inception in 1998, Bikefest has been held at the Commodore Industrial Park in the City of Bainbridge.

According to Roy Reynolds, founding board member and current chairperson, there was always the uncertainty that the land would be sold to prospective industry and Bikefest would be left to seek another venue.

So, in 2000 the group purchased an 80-acre tract at 1754 Pond Town Road, and for the past nine years groups of volunteers have persevered in their struggles to clear and develop the land to the point it could be used for the annual rally held each September.

The first major obstacle was to get the land cleared.

Initially, volunteer help set about to do just that until they were stopped by the Decatur County Building Department, which advised they needed a permit to clear the land. A first permit for six months was obtained for $170, but by then the volunteer help was unavailable.

Reynolds said the next permit had to be paid to the state at the rate of $80 per acre. So now the group had to come up with $5,600 for a one-year permit. They then contracted with a local company to clear the land at a cost of $32,000, and paid $5,000 in diesel fuel to grade and level the acreage.

Since 85 percent of Bikefest money raised goes to charities, only 15 percent is left in reserves for case of the land, emergency funds and start-up for the next year. Consequently, it has taken several years to make visible progress on the new grounds. A permanent headquarters building was donated last year by Trinity Construction of Dothan and local volunteers erected it.

The ensuing years have seen a well dug, thanks to major corporate sponsor Griffin Well Drilling LLC. Two septic tanks have been installed, three-inch water lines run the length of the property, and electric power brought through the site.

Camping in the wooded areas will still be primitive camping. There are no electrical hookups to the sites yet, although that is in the grand plan for the future.

In the last few months

In the final months of preparation this year, volunteers have busily built a shower house, a shelter for ticket takers, installed lights, and constructed a permanent stage, all under the direction of Robert Tate, chairman of the grounds committee.

Reynolds and Tate were asked how the change of venue will benefit or change Bikefest as they have known it.

Tate’s first response was, “We have shade here. There was no shade at Commodore Park.”

Also noted was the permanence of structures at the new site. No longer will they have to spend many man hours setting up and tearing down, marking off areas with metal fence posts and taking them all down at the end.

Reynolds commented that it was a benefit to get the event away from residential areas into a more natural environment.

“We can also do better traffic control here,” he added.

A permanent stage has been erected at the rear of the Pond Town acreage, and SIPS Team USA has donated a structure for the DUI checkpoint facility.

Concern for the welfare of the guests prompted Bikefest promoters in 2007 to initiate a voluntary DUI checkpoint. Persons leaving the grounds have the option of breathing into a breathalyzer, donated by the Georgia State Patrol and the Colquitt City Police Department, with no threat of incrimination or charges. Individuals then make a personal decision to wait it out, or take advantage of free transportation to a local designation of choice.

Building of the permanent stage has been quite an undertaking. In the final weeks of preparation volunteers have been working weekends to add the finishing touches.

A huge interest has been shown from the public who will be attending, according to Reynolds and Tate.

“As we are working here on weekends and evenings, people come out looking around. Then many come back and help.”

One example of willing workers was a cycle group that came to look at the stage that was under construction. Upon learning that safety rails would be needed, they revealed they were metal workers, whereupon they returned with pipe and tools and installed the rails.

Tate was seeking steel treads for the stage steps. He found them at Ironwood Construction, south of Havana, Fla., and the company donated the treads.

Although man hours and goods have been generously donated, the state of the economy has taken a toll on Bikefest dollar donations this year, according to Reynolds, who said sponsors and donations have been cut back across the board and they are still “begging” for money. Even more urgent is the fact that all emergency funds have been exhausted.

“We must succeed this year,” added Reynolds.

Another challenge

One additional challenge for the group this year has been the change in acquisition of a license to sell beer on the premises. For the last 11 years the group applied to the City of Bainbridge for a yearly license. With the move to the county, the application has gone first through Decatur County where they asked the state to approve an event application only, rather than one for the whole year.

Bikefest 2009 runs from Sept. 16-19. Out-of-town attendees are encouraged to travel from 253 or 27 North to Pine Hill Road, then south to Pond Town Road, using paved rural access roads without going through residential areas. However, the City of Bainbridge has trimmed trees along the route of Miller Avenue/Pond Town Road and patched the holes in the pavement, as there will be many traveling to town to take advantage of local restaurants, buy gasoline and otherwise patronize local merchants.

Events that have traditionally been held in downtown Bainbridge, such as the Friday evening Veterans Memorial service in Willis Park and the Saturday morning bike show around the square, will continue to be held there.

To learn more about Bikefest 2009, go to www.Bainbridgebikefest.com.

Although the idea for a Bainbridge Bikefest is originally attributed to Roy Reynolds, he says Bikefest was never really a dream of his, but the dream he did have was that Bikefest would have a permanent home.

“When I think of what has been involved out here, it has been a hard struggle. My grandmother had a saying about cracking black walnuts. ‘The harder to break, the sweeter the meat.’ It has been a tough nut to crack, but I am anticipating the rewards are going to be sweet.”