Waynesville rolls out the red carpet for riders
It’s all hands on deck this weekend as Waynesville prepares to welcome more than 1,100 cyclists and their families to town for the start of the Cycle N.C. Mountains to Coast Ride.
Waynesville was fortunate enough to be selected as the starting point for the weeklong, 500-mile bicycle ride across the state, and town and tourism development officials have been prepping for months to make sure the event goes off without a hitch.
Town Manager Marcy Onieal said planning for the event has been a major undertaking for the town staff, but she hopes the end result will be well worth the work.
“We’ve never had an event this large where 1,100 people will be descending on the town in one fell swoop,” she said. “But I’m really excited to know we’ll have 1,100 people and most of them have never been to Waynesville before. We hope they’ll come back and visit again and again.”
The Waynesville Recreation Center will shut down to the public at noon Friday as cyclists begin to arrive in charter buses from Raleigh and Oak Island. The rec center will provide a base camp for the bicyclists to camp overnight until they start the ride on Sunday morning.
Local restaurants and breweries will be catering food and drink at the rec center throughout the weekend, but hopefully cyclists will explore Waynesville during their down time. Everyone in the tourism business will be rolling out the red carpet to show all these guests what Haywood County has to offer.
“It’s going to be a pretty crazy weekend. Crazy in a good way,” said George Ivey, a Bethel resident and member of Bicycle Haywood NC who completed the Mountains to Coast ride in 2014. “It’s quite a sight to see. Hopefully it will make a good impression on everybody.”
Making an impression
The cyclists will be arriving Friday and Saturday but won’t roll out of Waynesville until early Sunday morning, which gives many riders a day or more to check out the area.
Onieal said one of the biggest challenges for the town was organizing transportation and coming up with a safety plan to ensure visitors have a positive experience while they are here. She said they were fortunate to have a couple of community members who have done the Mountains to Coast ride in the past who helped with planning on the event committee.
“We had to learn about what bicyclists expect for an event like this,” she said.
The organizers have definitely pulled out all the stops. Thanks to a grant the town received earlier this year, Onieal said the town was able to purchase and install 30 bike racks around Waynesville just in time for the event.
Buffy Phillips, executive director of the Downtown Waynesville Association, has urged merchants to make a good impression by staying open later on Saturday night and offering special entertainment in front of their businesses.
With buses shuttling cyclists to the downtown area from the rec center from noon to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Phillips has alerted businesses and restaurants to be staffed and equipped to handle waves of people throughout the day.
“There will be plenty of folks coming to town for the first time,” Phillips said in a memo to merchants. “We are going to make a great impression.”
Haywood County Tourism Development Authority staff is also working diligently to make sure all the cyclists and their supporters have a pleasant experience while staying in Haywood County this weekend. Local vendors will be set up at the rec center and there will be live entertainment all day Saturday.
Anna Smathers, TDA communications manager, said hosting the start of the ride is a huge honor but also the perfect opportunity to show riders why this area is an incredible place for cyclists to stay and play.
“This ride is one of the most popular cross-state rides in the country with over a thousand riders every year. That gives us a lot of exposure with this rapidly growing market of visitors,” she said. “Our hopes are that the participants will fall in love with Waynesville and its surrounding communities and return not only for future rides and events, but they will bring their family and friends for many years to come.”
Businesses are encouraged to welcome the riders on their marquees. The TDA will have “Welcome to Waynesville” posters for merchants to hang in their windows. While organizers have enough volunteers on board for the event, Smathers said she would love to see residents along the bike route come out to cheer for them as they go by.
“The simple gesture is really appreciated by the cyclists and boosts morale, especially right at the start of a challenging, week-long ride,” she said. “We also encourage locals to welcome the cyclists when you see them out throughout the weekend. Let them know you’re glad they are here and wish them luck on their journey ahead.”
About 900 of the cyclists will be camping out at a “tent city” at recreation center, while others have booked hotel rooms at Lake Junaluska Conference Center, Best Western in Waynesville, the Waynesville Inn and the Windover Inn.
Sharing the road
Drivers in Haywood County should be mindful of the influx of people this weekend and use caution on the roads. The Mountains to Coast ride doesn’t start until Sunday morning, but cyclists will be using the roads Friday and Saturday to warm up before the long ride.
Smathers said the BicycleHaywood NC would be hosting “warm up rides” Saturday so visiting riders can experience the most beautiful routes throughout the county.
“Basically, there will be cyclists riding throughout our towns, many rural roads, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the routes leading up to the parkway,” she said. “Since there won’t be just one main route taken on Saturday, I would recommend practicing caution in general throughout the county on Saturday and encourage drivers to share the road, stay alert and watch for blind spots.”
Pedestrian traffic around town may be slow and congested as visitors try to find their way around. Residents are urged to be patient as large shuttle buses carry people back and forth from the rec center to downtown Waynesville and the Frog Level area every 15 minutes. Residents may want to give themselves more time to get to where they are going on Friday and Saturday.
Come Sunday, more than 1,100 cyclists will depart from the rec center between 7 and 9 a.m. Cyclists will leave the rec center by way of Vance Street to North Main Street and out to Old Asheville Highway. At the roundabout, riders will take Raccoon Road over to U.S. 276, which they will take all the way over the Blue Ridge Parkway to Brevard, and eventually on to Hendersonville for their overnight stop.
Residents attending a church service along U.S. 276 Sunday morning may want to give themselves more time to get there.
So how did Waynesville get lucky enough to be chosen as the host town for such a popular cycling event? Onieal said several factors went into Cycle N.C.’s decision to start the race in Waynesville — the farthest west the event has ever started.
With the area’s active bicycling community, a couple of past participants in the Mountains to Coast ride reached out the Cycle N.C. and asked them to come see what Waynesville had to offer.
When Ragan Williams, Cycle N.C. ride director, came to Waynesville to see if the town had what it takes, he was impressed.
“He said our facilities, especially the recreation center, were the best he’s ever seen,” Onieal said.
Richard Felder with BicycleHaywood NC traveled to North Carolina from his then-home in Houston, Texas, to participate in the Mountains to Coast Ride in 2007. He said the ride was a one-of-a-kind event that allows cyclists to see so much of the state’s beautiful countryside.
“Each small town did such a good job of being welcoming,” he said. “It’s just such a nice social atmosphere by the end of the week.”
Felder said everyone involved in planning for the event in Waynesville has done an outstanding job and he couldn’t think of a better place to start the Mountains to Coast ride.
“I think we have great facilities here and we have so much to offer as far as the downtown area and the scenery surrounding us,” he said. “It’s a big deal and we want to do it right.”
What to expect Sept. 26-27 in and around Waynesville
- Bicyclists — more than 1,100 riders plus their spouses and children, who will be seeing them off on the weeklong ride — will be arriving in waves on Friday and Saturday, especially Saturday at the Waynesville Recreation Center.
- The recreation center building will be closed to the public all weekend for the event and then through next Friday for upgrades and maintenance.
- Cyclists will be on the roads Saturday for “warm-up” rides.
- Large shuttle buses will be running every 15 minutes from the rec center to downtown Waynesville; shuttles will also be going beween the Waynesville Inn and Golf Resort and the Best Western Inn, the main hotels for cyclists.
- Pedestrian traffic will be heavy in downtown Friday night and all Saturday.
- Cyclists will be heading out for the Mountains to Coast ride in spurts between 7-9 a.m. Sunday morning.
- Expect delays on U.S. 276 all the way out to The Blue Ridge Parkway as the cyclists make their way over to Brevard.
Cycle N.C. Mountains to Coast Ride
Sept. 26-Oct. 3
Nearly 500-mile ride from Waynesville to Oak Island
Tentative schedule for riders
- Day 1: Waynesville to Hendersonville — 60 miles
- Day 2: Hendersonville to Shelby — 72 miles
- Day 3: Shelby to Concord — 78 miles
- Day 4: Concord to Southern Pines — 79 miles
- Day 5: Southern Pines to Lumberton — 63 or 100 miles
- Day 6: Lumberton to Whiteville — 63 miles
- Day 7: Whiteville to Oak Island — 67 miles