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February 20, 2019

BikeMaine route will span Waterville area and midcoast

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Head of Falls, which features Waterville's Riverwalk, will be the site of the biker's village for the 2019 BikeMaine trek.

The 2019 BikeMaine route will begin and end at Waterville's growing hotspot, Head of Falls.

The "Coastal Connections" route, recently announced by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, will cover 327 miles, with loops that include stops in Hope, Damariscotta, Rockland and Belfast.

The ride, which takes place in September, is sold out, and 450 bikers from around the country take part. This is the seventh year for the ride, which has pumped $3 million into the state's economy in rides that have spanned most of Maine's regions.

The choice of Waterville as this year's start and finish line is not only because of its central geography, but because of the city's burgeoning economy and profile, said Will Elting, BikeMaine ride director.

"On the practical side, Waterville is easy to get to for people coming from out of state, and the city is large enough the handle the volume of people and vehicles that converge for the start and end of the ride," Elting told Mainebiz Tuesday. "In a broader sense, Waterville is really in the midst of a renaissance, and we think BikeMaine will be a phenomenal way to showcase the city to a wider audience."

The site of the biker's village, where they camp out before the ride starts and after it ends, will be 20-acre Head of Falls, where the new Riverwalk opened last fall and which the city has targeted for mixed-use development.

Elting said that site, as well as the rest of the city's recent development, makes the location an attractive one for those taking part in the bike trek.

"Of course, the Head of Falls and Riverwalk is spectacular, and I think people will be really excited to camp there, but you've also got so much happening downtown; it's the perfect location for people to grab a drink or pick up essentials before starting the ride, and maybe buy a souvenir to take home after," he said.

Hidden gems

Courtesy / Bicycle Coalition of Maine
Courtesy / Bicycle Coalition of Maine
This year's BikeMaine route features many hidden gems in coastal and Central Maine.

This year's route, which often takes back roads or smaller state highways includes:

  • Day 1: 53.3 miles from Waterville southeast to Hope, in Knox County, where cyclists will spend the night at Alford Lake Camp.
  • Day 2: 68 miles from Hope south to Damariscotta, where cyclists will loop south of the town around the Pemaquid Peninsula before spending the night at the Damariscotta River Association's Round Top Farm.
  • Days 3 and 4: 43 miles winding west through Nobleboro and Warren, before bikers spend the night in Rockland, where they also have a layover day.
  • Day 5: 55 miles north up the coast to Belfast, zig-zagging over some of the backroads. Riders will spend two nights in Belfast.
  • Day 6: 55-mile loop up to Winterport, then back around through the towns of Monroe and Brooks to Belfast.
  • Day 7: 54.8 miles west to Waterville.

Etling said that the route goes on roads and to places even riders from Maine might not be familiar with.

"That is something we try to do with our route every year," he said. "There are so many hidden gems all across the state that many people never see because [the sites are] not on a main road.

"Going off the beaten path a bit serves the dual purpose of highlighting these unique locales, as well as ensuring there is less vehicular traffic to contend with," he said.

Increasing impact

The economic impact of the ride, which is a trek, not a race, has increased every year. Last year's ride, in the St. John Valley of Aroostook County, infused $742,000 into the state's economy, a 17% increase over 2017, organizers said.

The first trek, in 2013, had 350 riders. Now, ridership is capped at 450. This year's ride was almost sold out months before the details of the route were announced Feb. 9. BikeMaine officials said that 75% of participants who registered are from out of state.

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine spends money on food, lodging, community relations, fees, local purchases, vehicle rentals, mobile showers, fuel and other rider support. Rider expenditures include lodging, food and beverages, transportation, retail shopping and recreation. At each stopover, local vendors and artists are also invited to sell their wares.

Ride sponsors and partners this year include: L.L. Bean, Maine Beer Co., Maine Farm and Sea Cooperative, Pineland Farms, Norway Savings Bank, Renys, Poland Spring, Hannaford, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Pemaquid Watershed Association, Damariscotta River Association and Massachusetts-based Ciclismo Classico bicycle touring company.

In its first year, 2013, the ride began and ended in Orono and ranged from Dover-Foxcroft, in Piscataquis County, to Bar Harbor, Castine and Belfast on the coast. Since then, it's toured through central Maine from Norway to Boothbay Harbor (2014); southern and western Maine, from Kittery up through Bridgton and Bethel, then to Old Orchard Beach (2015); the Bold Coast of Washington and Hancock counties (2016); western and central Maine from Rangeley through Skowhegan and Pittsfield (2017).

For the past three years, the event has also awarded grants to previous host towns for outdoor recreation.

Riverwalk Park site

The tour comes to Waterville during a massive downtown redevelopment, driven by a $100 million Colby College investment that includes purchase of six buildings and construction of a 100,000-square-foot mixed use retail and dorm building on Main Street.

Some of the Colby projects are in early stages and won't be completed in time for the bike tour, including a 50-room hotel on Main Street and redevelopment, with Waterville Creates!, of The Center at 93 Main St. into a regional gallery and arts center.

But a block north, on the banks of the Kennebec River, Head of Falls, which decades ago was home to a mill and and some of the city's immigrant community, features the new quarter-mile Riverwalk park. The winding path, with art features, native planting, historical markers and an amphitheater and gazebo, stretches along 4,600 feet of Kennebec River waterfront.

The city is also seeking a developer for a mixed-used building on the 20-acre grassy site, which has been vacant for nearly 50 years.

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