SALEM — Salem is a town of peace, but when up to 20,000 people pass through town for RAGBRAI on Friday, July 26, Karen Jacobsmeier hopes it’s anything but peaceful.
“RAGBRAI is a spectacle,” said Jacobsmeier, who is on the Salem RAGBRAI Committee. “There will be people who come just to see that many bicycles all in one spot. Riders come in costume, blaring music, wearing goofy hats, it’s comical to watch.”
Salem’s RAGBRAI Committee is in need of volunteers to help plan for that many riders to pass through town, for the day of the event, to help set up the day before and clean up the day after.
Volunteers are needed to help set up bike racks, be on recycling and trash duty, work the information booth, help direct traffic and volunteer at the Iowa Craft Beer Tent. Volunteers will be able to sign up for two-hour shifts when RAGBRAI passes through Salem on July 26, from around 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Committee expects between 15,000 and 20,000 people to pass through Salem during that time.
Jacobsmeier said they will use tractors with cables secured between them as bike racks to create room for 400 bicycles at a time. They will attach a cable to the three-point hitch, stretch it tight and pull the tractors as tight as possible. She hopes it will hold 200 bikes per 300 feet.
“The object is to keep them out of the park. That’s 400 bikes off the grass,” Jacobsmeier said.
RAGBRAI’s pre-ride team of about 50 bicyclists rode through Salem on Friday, June 7, looking for hazards around the route, doing road inspections and stopping to talk with meeting towns about their plans for the day of RAGBRAI.
Mary Hoyer, Salem RAGBRAI Committee member, said the pre-ride team was “very happy” with what Salem was planning.
“We have a town square with extremely wide streets and a shady park. We’re well set up to handle this,” Hoyer said. “The people who came in from RAGBRAI were very impressed with the town because there are very few towns that have, like Mt. Pleasant, this kind of core. The infrastructure is as good as you can get.”
Hoyer said that Salem is in an unusual situation because there is only one other pass-through town in front of them on July 26. The ride that day is 60 miles from Fairfield to Burlington.
Joel Garretson, Salem RAGBRAI Committee member, said that the first wave of riders will be the professionals who stop just long enough for a drink of cool water and to use the restroom. The second wave is the families and occasional riders who are enjoying Iowa’s scenery and having a good time. The last wave of RAGBRAI riders are the partyers.
“You almost have to tailor some of your volunteer time toward that,” Garretson said with a smile. “I think it’s a great way to showcase Salem. It’s a great way for businesses to get publicity, and it will give a boost to the Underground, Kramer’s Sinclair, Feehan’s Flowers, Mertens Auto Repair Shop, and spark interest in the library.”
The Salem RAGBRAI Committee is planning for 12 food vendors during RAGBRAI and several educational booths from the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. Kramer’s Sinclair plans to sell ice cream and craft beer as well, Garretson said.
During RAGBRAI, the Lewelling Quaker Museum will be open to visitors. Garretson said that riders might also want to check out Salem’s Veteran’s Memorial.
Entertainment is tentatively scheduled to begin around 10 a.m. The first performers will be Jerry and Joylynn Smith from Salem Congregational Church, Tim Smith and Carla Wilson will perform at noon and Whiskey Friends will take the stage from 1 to 3 p.m.
Salem Friends Church will provide a dunk tank and a photo booth.
The Salem RAGBRAI Committee met with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office and Salem Fire & Rescue chief Steve Nichting to discuss law enforcement presence and emergency protocols.
A medical unit from the University of Iowa will travel with Ragbrai-registered riders to provide any medical attention needed. If there is an injury or health concern with a non-registered RAGBRAI or someone not participating in RAGBRAI, Garretson said the Henry County Health Center ambulance and Salem Fire & Rescue EMT’s will be on call.
Jacobsmeier said it’s an honor for Salem to have been chosen as a meeting town, especially considering their size.
“We’ve got to be close to one of the smallest meeting towns RAGBRAI’s ever had,” Jacobsmeier said. “I just hope riders have a good time when they get here and remember Salem from years past if they’ve ridden with RAGBRAI before.
“They’re going to see a lot of changes,” Jacobsmeier continued. “There are a few less businesses than there used to be. Salem is dwindling a little bit. I’d like to see RAGBRAI bring more people back to town or spark an interest.”
Jacobsmeier said spectators will come to Salem on July 26 just to see that many bicycles in one spot. She recalls seeing the first-ever RAGBRAI when it passed through Houghton and was amazed that 50 bicycles came through town.
“Now, we’re going to see probably 10,000 bicycles come through town. It’s just something to see,” Jacobsmeier said.
The RAGBRAI Committee is open to anyone who would like to join the planning process. Volunteer sign up sheets will be available at Kramer’s Sinclair in Salem, the Salem post office, the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance or on Facebook at Salem Ragbrai 2019.