20,000 houseguests

EMMETSBURG – Preparing for a few overnight guests can be a nerve-wracking experience – just ask anyone who’s had to accommodate a few relatives for a weekend.

Now imagine that it’s not just a few family members.

Imagine that it’s 20,000 people.

Faith Kennedy, video and website coordinator for the Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce, said volunteers in the community have been getting ready for those 20,000 overnight guests who are expected to arrive Monday as the annual RAGBRAI bike ride stops in Emmetsburg.

Preparations didn’t just begin last week.

“Within a week of the announcement in January, we had started pulling together the advance committee,” Kennedy said.

It’s a bit like planning the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, she said, except the numbers are quadrupled.

It will take a lot of volunteers to do everything from welcoming the riders to making sure they safely cross the railroad tracks.

So far, the community has stepped up.

“We’re asking for 500 volunteers,” Kennedy said. “So far, we’ve got about 450 of those positions filled.”

Residents who haven’t volunteered yet can still do so.

“We’ll take volunteers up till Sunday night,” she said.

If they show up Monday, she can get put to work too.

Deb Hite, executive director of the Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce and a member of the RAGBRAI executive committee, is pleased with the support local residents and business have provided

“We can’t do this without our community,” Hite said.

The cohesive effort is evident: fresh coats of paint, workers on ladders making repairs, crew spiffing up the city’s parks and even a homeowner or two getting new landscaping add to an air of anticipation.

“The whole town is sprucing up,” Hite said. “The city has done a remarkable job.”

Locally designed shirts, made to commemorate the event, feature the theme “Get lucky in Eburg.”

“We wish for good luck to have good weather and a good ride,” she said.

Residents and visitors can also purchase green bike pins. Proceeds from the shirts and pins help support the event.

Hite said that she expects the riders to arrive in Emmetsburg pretty early Monday.

“Our first ones will come at around 6 a.m.,” she said.

Besides lots of people welcoming them, they will also get to ride under an archway that features the 32 counties of Ireland, enjoy a whimsical hay bale sculpture and, once they arrive at Soper Park, be able to enjoy music, food, a swim in Five Island Lake, and friendly directions to the various sites where they will be camping.

Hite said the majority of the riders will be sleeping at Iowa Lakes Community College. In addition, there are half a dozen public sites, including the Palo Alto County Fairgrounds and the flag football field.

Then there are residents who have stepped up to let the riders camp on their lawns.

“Anywhere that’s green,” Kennedy said, “we’ll put people.”

Once the riders leave, there will be plenty of work for volunteers and crews.

“It took five months to plan and prepare for,” Hite said. “It will take two days to clean up.”

Both Kennedy and Hite are also hoping for an accident-free ride. They said that while the ride does not use U.S. Highway 18 or Iowa Highway 4, several locals roads will be closed and the bike routes north of town, well marked and protected.

Residents and visitors can also expect to encounter a lot of riders exploring the town.

“Be cautious and be aware,” Hite urged. “Please slow down.”