JOHN DAY - For two years in a row, Grant County has rolled out the red carpet for a band of bicyclists who pump the pedals to bridge Oregon's notorious urban-rural divide.
Cycle Oregon has rolled in force through Grant County both in 2001 and 2002. This year, on Sept. 9-10, a pack of bicyclists the size of John Day's entire population cruised into Seventh Street Complex for an overnight campout.
If the goal of Cycle Oregon is to unite segments of Oregon's population, it appears to be working in Grant County. Local business owners said they love the tour. The often affluent and charming bicyclists bring money and good will to the community. And local boosters report that the riders are equally enthralled with Grant County residents and the area surroundings.
All of which begs the question: Is a third time a charm for Grant County? Will Cycle Oregon return in 2003?
Leaders admit that nobody can guarantee there will be a third-straight visit by the Portland-based cycling tour. Already, the county has been spoiled with Cycle Oregon's attentions. Last year, Prairie City staged the ride both at the start and finish of a north-to-south loop. This year, Grant County served more modestly as a stopover point on one night of the east-to-west, Nyssa-to-Florence tour.
Whatever the future holds, local boosters and business owners agreed that this year's tour again bolstered the local economy and further endeared Grant County to the cycling organization.
"They like it here. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if they came back," said Arlene McGetrick, Grant County Chamber of Commerce director and a regular participant in Cycle Oregon support activities.
Peggy Carey, John Day city manager and coordinator of local hospitality efforts, was more tentative.
"We sure hope they come back," she said. But she acknowledged that the group likely will pick a route elsewhere in the state to vary its locations.
During this year's Sept. 8-14 ride, both John Day and Mt. Vernon served as stopover sites. An ad hoc John Day committee and the Mt. Vernon Promoters, a standing community-improvement organization, mobilized to coordinate local accommodations for cyclists. An assortment of nonprofit groups also pitched in to make the riders comfortable on their Sept. 9-10 layover.
The riders enjoyed their stay, based on comments overheard by local residents.
Impressive scenery, low traffic on the highways and local hospitality all were mentioned, McGetrick said.
The Chamber and Grant County Genealogical Society hosted a hospitality booth at Seventh Street Complex from Monday morning to evening. Small touches helped. Volunteers gave away ice cream bars, and McGetrick recalled, "I heard one man telling another man, 'I've never had a fudgecicle that tasted so good in my life.'"
The sports fields themselves awed the weary riders.
"When they saw the green grass that they were going to sleep on, they said it looked like heaven," McGetrick recalled of the tent city that briefly emerged at Seventh Street.
Carey agreed that Grant County made a positive impression.
"I think they loved it. Everything we heard was positive. They just liked the location," she said.
Behind the scenes, elaborate preparations took place. Six massive trucks loaded with luggage, tents, lawnchairs and other accouterments of travel conveged in John Day. Volunteers offloaded luggage, manned gates and answered questions.
"They are their own little city," Carey noted. "They have it all mapped out where they will put all the vendors, all the showers, all the kitchens. They have everything so organized it's amazing."
Business owners reaped the rewards of the tour. Best Western John Day Inn manager Vicki Nodine said 37 rooms were filled Monday night with Cycle Oregon riders.
Janet Robertson, owner with her husband, Bill, of the Outpost Pizza and Grill in downtown John Day, said, "We were just swamped. We got a tremendous amount of business."
Chris Beil, manager of the Grubsteak Mining Co. restaurant, reported, "There was definitely a big increase in business for the one day that they were here."
Marty McLerran, owner of the Dreamers Lodge, said her motel was full both Monday and Tuesday.
Robertson recalled that riders were a pleasure to serve.
"They were all wonderful," she said. "We also have been feeding a lot of firefighters, so we were packed. There were people standing, waiting down the street to get in. They were polite. They were all nice about it."
The route proved popular for the bicyclists.
"A lot of people commented on their trip from Nyssa to here, that it was wonderful," McLerran recalled.
Carey said the group typically meets in February to announce the next year's route. For more information about Cycle Oregon, visit the Web site, www.cycleoregon.com.