Today's Tour de Felasco is a big draw


Published: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 12:26 a.m.

Today's Tour de Felasco offers the challenge of a 50-mile off-road bike ride, and it also turns out it's a surprise hit.

When the Friends of San Felasco support group planned the initial fund-raising ride - and it is a ride, not a race - they carried flyers to area bike shops and cycling events, sent out e-mail invitations and put an announcement on the group's Web site and hoped for the best.

Nearly a month before today's ride at San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park the group got a surprise - they'd already hit the 300-rider capacity and were needing to turn people away.

"We were pleased to see it," said Leslie Folkerth, a member of the tour committee. "It's made them more anxious to get their registrations in for next year."

Lys Burden is president and event coordinator for the Suwannee Bicycle Association, based in White Springs. Burden has been planning bicycle events for more than 12 years, and she said it's rare that a first-time event will sell out.

"What it speaks to is the huge popularity and demand for this kind of event," Burden said.

Today's Tour de Felasco will mark the biggest single day for park usage at San Felasco, park manager Randy Brown said. But the trails of San Felasco have been a big draw ever since they opened in August 2001.

Brown said on a recent Sunday afternoon he counted 35 to 40 cars with bike racks in the parking lot, which is located off Progress Boulevard, off U.S. 441 south of Alachua. He figures nearly 300 riders hit the trail over that weekend, about the same as are entered in today's big event.

"It's not like (the Tour de Felasco) is going to put an undue strain on the trail," Brown said.

The registration list also shows that riders are willing to travel for the opportunity of riding the trails at San Felasco - fewer than 30 percent of the 300 come from Alachua County. That doesn't surprise Burden.

"That's typical," she said. "We draw riders from all over the state."

The Suwannee Bicycle Association will be holding a similar event in two weeks on the trails near White Springs. The Ididaride, which has a cap of 250 riders, is also sold out for 2003 and has reached its cap for several years, Burden said.

While both rides are 50 miles long, Burden said the hills in San Felasco could make it a tougher ride. It's estimated that average to fast riders will take about three hours to complete the course. Recent rains will add to that challenge.

"Expect to get wet at some point during the ride" reads the warning on the Friends of San Felasco Web site.

Those challenges haven't scared away riders for either today's ride or the one in White Springs.

"We compared the two lists, and 80 people are doing both rides," Burden said.

For the $30 contribution, Tour de Felasco riders will receive several extras - a T-shirt, breakfast, lunch and snacks, and support along the route. They will also have access to nearly 30 miles of off-road trails open only for today to cyclists, allowing them to ride 50 miles without ever crossing a paved road.

More than 50 volunteers have helped prepare for the ride and will be working at the event today. The money raised by today's tour will be used for maintenance and park improvements.

The trails have been marked especially for the event. The park is still open to regular visitors for hiking, biking and horse riding.

"We'll have signage out telling folks they may encounter bicycles," Brown said.

Riders are expected to be on the trail by 8:30 a.m. "We want all the riders off the trail by 5 p.m.," Brown said.

Gary Kirkland can be reached at 338-3104 or kirklag@gvillesun.com.

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