By JAMES COSTELLO
Stifling heat couldn’t keep riders away from Saturday’s Tour des Lakes bike rides. The turnout at the eighth iteration of the annual Syracuse-Wawasee Trail fundraiser drew a total of around 350 bikers riding the three routes around multiple Kosciusko County lakes, up about 30 from last year’s ride.
According to Syracuse-Wawasee Park Foundation Executive Trails Director Megan McLellan, that growth is on par with the increasing turnout she’s seen during the past several years of the event.
“It’s been very hot, but (turnout) was still very good. We had 294 people preregister, and I think we’re right around 350 with day-of registrants added to that,” she said.
“We’ve been steadily growing by about 20 or 30 riders every year.”
The increased participation brings more funds to the Syracuse-Wawasee Trail project, a nonprofit dedicated to the continued growth of the Syracuse-Wawasee trail system.
“We are a nonprofit, and we are specifically focused on getting trails built around Syracuse Lake, Lake Wawasee and connecting the communities around the lakes to each other. We don’t get any tax money for that, so it’s all through donations and fundraising efforts like this,” explained McLellan.
“This is the largest of our fundraisers. All fundraisers like this are also what we call ‘friend-raisers,’ so it just gets the word out there. We have people from Wisconsin and Illinois and Michigan and Kentucky and Ohio that come into town for this. This is our eighth year, and people come year after year. It really gets the word out there about the Syracuse-Wawasee area.”
Saturday’s Tour des Lakes featured three route options — a 25-kilometer, 50K and 100K ride — as well as a family-friendly Tour des Parks Scavenger Ride, highlighting several parks within the town of Syracuse. A beer tent and food carts were set up outside the Syracuse Community Center, which served as the start/finish point for the rides, and Adam Baker and the Heartache and Beez and Rocker played live music for participants as they unwound after their rides. Also new to this year’s event was the use of digital grab bags for riders, so preregistered participants could plan to make use of their goodies the day of the ride.
“In previous years we’ve handed people a bag with coupons and information in it. This year we put it all online, and they just scan a QR code or enter a URL and then they can access all the same coupons and information and things like that,” said McLellan. “There are several good things about that. It saves paper, it saves time, but also we can send it out as soon as they register. We can give them access to it, and they can look at it and maybe there’s a coupon for a hotel or an activity that they want to do so they can combine it and make it more of a trip and not just a single event.”
With another successful Tour des Lakes in the books, McLellan and company have already begun thinking about next year’s ride. Instead of the second Saturday of July, they plan to push the event back by a week in 2019 to avoid congestion from competing events along the routes.
“Next year instead of being on the second Saturday (of July), this will be on the third Saturday. There’s an event in Goshen and an event in Warsaw that we’re sort of getting in the way, so we’ll try and move it back a week and see how that goes,” McClellan said.
“We send out a survey every year, and when they register we ask ‘How did you hear about our ride?’ What we hear consistently is ‘I’ve ridden it before’ or ‘I’ve heard about it from friends.’ Really the best way for us to market our ride is to have a good ride.”