Are you ready, Greenbelt? It’s almost time for your closeup.
Each year, the Capital Area Greenbelt Association rolls out the welcome mat for the Tour de Belt, a leisurely ride along the 20-mile trail that weaves through Harrisburg’s biggest parks and landmarks.
Around 800 bikers are expected to join this year’s ride on June 3, according to Dick Norford, who co-chairs the planning committee alongside Diane Kripas. The two work to coordinate the event and the 100 or so volunteers who assist riders that day.
The Tour de Belt is meant to be a fun, family event.
“It’s not a race,” Norford said. “It’s a ride.”
With the price of admission, participants receive free snacks and drinks at the ride’s two rest stops and, afterwards, free lunch and a T-shirt. All funds raised go towards supplies for the upkeep of the trail done by volunteer crews.
Over the years, the weekend of activity has expanded beyond the tour itself. Several rides, including Bike the Burg and the Five Bridges Tour, are planned for Saturday, June 2, the day before the big ride around the Greenbelt.
So, how did all this biking get started?
At the turn of the 20th century, Harrisburg was a city with unpaved streets, factories polluting the air and a riverbank full of residents’ trash, coal ashes and sewage. In 1901, the City Beautiful Movement spurred the effort to improve Harrisburg’s living conditions.
Soon after, landscape architect Warren Manning, a protege of Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted, created what is now known as Riverfront Park along the Susquehanna River and Wildwood Park at Wetzel’s Swamp. He also proposed the expansion of Reservoir Park on Allison Hill and suggested that the park network should be connected to a path around the city—the Greenbelt.
By 1915, the riverfront had been cleaned up and, as the parks were being built and expanded, the Greenbelt began to grow. But due to the Great Depression, the rise of automobile and the migration of city residents to the suburbs after World War II, the last section of the loop—from Reservoir Park to Wildwood Park—was abandoned.
CAGA was formed in 1990, after a group of arborists re-discovered the trail. The organization secured a grant to complete the circuit, and the Greenbelt was finished in 1999. To celebrate its completion after nearly a 100-year hiatus, the first Tour de Belt was organized in 2000.
“It’s become a little bit more than a bike around the city,” Norford said.
It’s also become a grand finale of sorts—the culmination of a string of biking events each May organized by the bicycle advocacy group, Bike Harrisburg. According to Marilyn Chastek, president of the Harrisburg Bicycle Club, National Bike Month came to Harrisburg about five years ago.
During Bike Month, two of Harrisburg’s biggest events include the Ride of Silence, locally organized by the founder of Recycle Bicycle Harrisburg, Ross Willard, and the Searsucker & Lace Ride.
The Ride of Silence, which commemorates Pennsylvania cyclists who died in traffic accidents over the past year, will take place May 16. It encourages drivers to be more courteous and careful when sharing the road. Cyclists ride from Camp Hill to the Capitol steps, where Willard and his team set up a display of crumpled “ghost bikes” painted white—one to represent each cyclist fatality.
This year, Willard has invited Andrew Brown, a cyclist who almost died after a car made a left turn into him at a red light, to speak at the event.
“This event is probably my favorite because I know the impact it has,” Willard said.
For another type of event, the Seersucker & Lace Ride will take place on May 21. Historically, it’s been the second biggest ride of the monthlong series, after the Tour de Belt itself, usually attracting around 85 people. Riders dress up in old-timey finery to take a guided tour of Harrisburg’s murals and snap pictures with vintage furniture.
“It’s like a fashion show on wheels,” Chastek said.
The Tour de Belt takes place June 3, starting at 9 a.m. from the HACC Harrisburg campus, 1 HACC Dr., Harrisburg. More events, including several additional rides, take place on June 2. For more information, including registration and cost, visit www.caga.org/tour-de-belt.
May I Ride?
May is National Bike Month and, locally, Bike Harrisburg has a host of events planned, including:
• May 6: Garden Faire at Fort Hunter, all day. Ride your bike to Garden Faire and receive a voucher for a free tour of the elegantly restored Fort Hunter Mansion.
• May 9: Spoke ‘n Gear Bicycle Expo, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Field (across from the Capitol fountain).
• May 14: Rally to Support Cycling In PA, 10 a.m. Ride your bike into Harrisburg and meet at the Capitol steps on 3rd Street for the rally.
• May 16: Ghost Bikes at the Capitol, all day, and International Ride of Silence, begins at 6:30 p.m. at Camp Hill Borough Hall.
• May 18: HBC Friday Night Social Ride, 6:15 p.m. Meet at the HACC Midtown parking lot on Reily Street. Dinner afterwards at the Broad Street Market.
• May 19: “Highlights of HBG” Bike Tour, 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Meet at the east end of the Walnut Street Bridge near Front Street.
• May 20: Seersucker & Lace Ride, 2 p.m. A fashion show on wheels. Meet at the Underground Bike Shop, 1519 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg.
For a complete list of Bike Harrisburg’s National Bike Month events, visit www.bikeharrisburg.org.