RAGBRAI to dip tires in Guttenberg

This year's RAGBRAI route will include overnight stops in Rock Valley, Okoboji, Emmetsburg, Forest City, Mason City, Waverly, Independence, and Guttenberg. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

This year’s river-to-river ride across Iowa will end in Guttenberg, RAGBRAI officials announced on Saturday, Jan. 26. The ride’s northern route begins in Rock Valley, a first-time RAGBRAI host, on July 19, and cyclists will roll through Guttenberg a week later on July 26. 

City Manager Mary Willett attended the announcement party in Des Moines, where she met John Karras, RAGBRAI’s co-founder. “I’ve never been to their announcement before – I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Willett. Her cousin, a 72-year old RAGBRAI veteran, introduced her to various cyclist teams while a bike helmet wearing, kick-lining band performed live. “I’d definitely say the RAGBRAI crowd likes to dance,” Willet laughed. 

As overnight towns were announced one by one, cyclists calculated mileage. She recalls a collective, good-natured groan about the climb into Guttenberg. At 3,073 feet of climb over 68 miles, Willett said, “This is considered to be the most challenging destination because of the elevation.”

RAGBRAI staff will visit Guttenberg for the first of many planning meetings on Feb. 5. Beginning next month, there will be at least two meetings per month leading up to the event. A route inspection is scheduled for the first week in June, and a comprehensive two-day meeting later that month will cover food and vendors, entertainment, public safety, electrical walk-throughs, and much more. 

“This is really very thorough,” said Willett. “Our committee will have more meetings besides that. We have people in the community that have done this a few times, and the community has learned things that work and don’t work.”

It’s been nine years since Guttenberg last hosted RAGBRAI. This is the fifth time in the 42 years of the event that the city has been on the route, serving as ending town in 1980, 1987, 1996, and 2005. 

In a report to the city council following the 2005 ride, Guttenberg RAGBRAI committee chair Nancy McClellan stated that the vendors did well, the park was left in near-pristine condition on both weekends in question, and that RAGBRAI riders and staff were cordial, respectful, friendly, and grateful.

“RAGBRAI creates a positive and lingering effect for Guttenberg.  We have already had RAGBRAI riders return with their family for a visit. There was also a couple that mentioned that Guttenberg would be a great place to retire to or to bring kids up,” McClellan reported to the council in 2005.  “The impact is not just for the two weekends that RAGBRAI is here. There are potentially long term benefits of new residents and possibly even new businesses.”

Mayor Russ Loven and former GD&T Director Mary Beth Theis submitted a proposal to the Register last fall. “We had to guarantee hotel space for Des Moines Register staff, and give information on construction projects that could influence traffic flow,” Loven explained. “Because this is our fifth time, there is a certain amount of experience here, and that helps.” 

Though he admits that many riders will head home after a long week of riding, the mayor spoke of potential to entertain campers who stay in Guttenberg before being shuttled to the west side of the state. “I hope we can get our local restaurants to go all out for this,” said Loven. 

The financial impact of the 2005 ride, again noted by committee chair McClellan, is as follows:

- On both weekends, for the most part the eating establishments and motels held capacity crowds.  

- In addition to the vendors on July 30, the school and pool collected money for showers; a class had a breakfast fund raiser, a local business received funds to hand out newspapers, local high school kids were paid to put up signs and hand out flyers and a few youth were paid to transport riders to locations not served by shuttles and buses. 

- Finally, through a number of local RAGBRAI endeavors including parking 600 vehicles here for the week and a check from the Des Moines Register, Guttenberg RAGBRAI realized a net profit exceeding $20,000.  

Members of the Gutttenberg RAGBRAI Committee distributed the profit among 17 organizations.  “Our intent was to make a difference in each of these projects as well as to provide assistance to a broad range of causes to carry the positive influence of RAGBRAI to every citizen and visitor of our community,” said McClellan. Efforts that received donations included, in no particular order: Veteran’s Memorial Fund, Naturally Guttenberg, Riverfront Development Commission, Guttenberg Recreation Department, Guttenberg Police, Guttenberg Fire Department, Hospital, Emergency Medical Service, Library, Guttenberg Press Angel Tree, Clayton Ridge Schools, St. Mary School, Friends of the Aquarium, Safe Community Skate Park, Great River Amateur Radio Club, Clayton County Substance Abuse Services and The American Red Cross’ Hurricane Fund.

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