CUMBERLAND — Bill Atkinson doesn’t blink an eye when he says the Queen City will be ready when 500 people literally roll into Cumberland this summer.
“The opportunity to showcase what we have is tremendous,” he said.
Months into preparations, it’s now down to a matter of weeks.
The cyclists are participants in the sixth annual Greenway Sojourn, a Rails-to-Trails Conservancy event, from June 23-30. With the completion of the Great Allegheny Passage, the group chose this trail, coupled with the C&O; Canal towpath, as this year’s eight-day venture.
“This is what the trail is all about; it’s what it is,” Atkinson, vice president of the Great Allegheny Passage — Maryland board, said. “These are the type of people we want to see come through here, spending money in our businesses.”
The ride will be on what the conservancy is calling the “longest multipurpose trail in the nation” and will take riders from Washington to Pittsburgh. At 335 miles — 185 miles on the towpath and 150 on the passage — this will be the group’s longest trip to date. Riders average 40 to 45 miles per day and as part of the journey, camp at various towns along the way.
Cumberland has been selected for the June 27 overnighter where the group will camp at the Crescent Lawn festival grounds of Canal Place. Those 500 people will be fed dinner here and then breakfast at the Frostburg Depot with their $700-per-adult fee covering that expense.
The evening before, the cyclists will be in Little Orleans and will have lunch in Oldtown before arriving here.
Atkinson said event planners have been coordinating with the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce’s tourism group, Canal Place, the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and Ed Mullaney, manager of the city’s Town Centre, to name a few.
“The bigger and better we make them feel, the more likely they will come back,” he said.
“We can expect to have 500 people running around town with money in their pockets to spend mainly on food and drinks,” Atkinson said. “They’re not going to buy a lot of merchandise because they’re biking.”
He and others are encouraging Cumberland businesses to promote the “We Ship” logo and offer to ship packages — from antiques to T-shirts — to the cyclists’ homes. Frostburg shops already have done so.
Last year, the Sojourn had 304 participants from 20 states, of which 40 percent were 56 years old or older and 36 percent had an annual income of $100,000 or more.
The Sojourn also is a celebration culminating a decades-long dream of linking the canal towpath to the passage.
Linda Boxx, president of the Allegheny Trail Alliance Board, said an event commemorating the trail’s completion is slated for 4 p.m. with a ceremonial shaking of the hands between Maryland and Pennsylvania representatives.
“There’s nothing like it in the United States for sure,” Boxx said of the trail. “It’s for anybody and it goes through some of the most scenic and historic areas of the East Coast.”
The third annual “TrailBook 2007” covers both the passage and the towpath mile by mile with information and maps of key towns included. A weatherproof, full-color map is included in the 200-page book, which features the Narrows with a view from Lovers Leap on the cover.
“TrailBook 2007” is available at www.atatrail.org.
Boxx said she believes Cumberland is poised to benefit from the influx of tourists because of the connection to the C&O; Canal towpath.
“I think it will grow naturally,” she said. “I have a lot of faith in the private sector. If there’s money to be made, they will come.”
Boxx also noted the change in name for the local trail from Allegheny Highlands Trail to Great Allegheny Passage — Maryland. She said the groups building the trail came together and decided that one collective name was necessary. The GAP “resonated well with the trail group as well as the public,” she said.
For more information about the Sojourn, visit www.railstotrails.org.
Maria Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.