When cyclists ride through Reservoir Park and glide past the riverfront, they get to see a piece of Harrisburg history: the Capital Area Greenbelt.
This Sunday, the Tour de Belt aims to celebrate that history with a bicycle ride through the 20-mile loop that connects Harrisburg’s parks. Organizers expect the 17th annual non-competitive ride to attract about 900 cyclists.
“There’s many cities spending money to build these trails, and we’ve had one for 115 years,” said Dick Norford, Capital Area Greenbelt Association committee chairman. “We’re very fortunate to have this wonderful trail.”
Funds from the Tour de Belt support the park’s upkeep and support the all-volunteer association.
“All the maintenance is done by volunteers,” Norford said. “Equipment is bought by donations, and the mulch, fertilizer and tools, all those things are paid for by the single fundraising event of the year, and that is the Tour de Belt.”
Indeed, dedicated residents and volunteers have been the biggest advocates of this “green necklace.”
The Greenbelt is a product of “City Beautiful,” an early-1900s movement aimed to make American cities more beautiful and livable. In addition to a new sewage system, paved streets and a new water system, Harrisburg created a string of parks. A park designer teamed up with Harrisburg resident Mira Lloyd Dock to connect the new parks, thus creating the Greenbelt, Norford said.
Over time, new homes, businesses and buildings replaced the open land. When automobiles became the new mode of transportation, the Greenbelt became overgrown with weeds and was eventually forgotten, Norford said.
In the late 1980s, an arborist rediscovered the trail hidden beneath litter and overgrown grass. After learning the trail’s history, he decided to fix it up, re-creating the Greenbelt, Norford said.
The Tour de Belt helps cyclists rediscover this green pathway.
“I love seeing new people discover this green necklace around the city,” said Ross Willard of the bicycle repair nonprofit Recycle Bicycle. “[They say] ‘I can do it.’ [I love] seeing people finish, because it’s a personal best for some people.”
Bike inspections and repairs will be available before and during the ride by local bike shops including Pedal Pusher, World Cup Ski & Cycle, the Underground Bike Shop and Recycle Bicycle.
“Our role is to make sure everyone is safe to do the ride ahead of time and to make sure they finish the ride,” said Willard. “Everyone who is donating to CAGA, we want them to be happy.”
Tour de Belt volunteers will have water along the route. Cyclists receive a memorial T-shirt and lunch, and those who register in teams get a free team photograph.
To Norford, the Greenbelt is a gift in itself.
“The biggest thing [riders] get is the opportunity to use the Greenbelt 365 days a year,” he said.
The Tour de Belt, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, starts at at 1 HACC Dr., Harrisburg. Registration costs $25 for adults and $7 for kids. Preregistration ends June 1. Riders can register the day of the event for an additional $5. Register here.
Author: Yaasmeen Piper