Perry Mayor Jay Pattee carried the city’s new Raccoon River Valley Trail (RRVT) banner up to a stage Saturday as the crowd of approximately 300 cyclists and trail supporters applauded. The parade and placement of banners kicked off the Grand Opening in Perry of the RRVT’s North Loop.

Pattee was one of the representatives, mostly mayors, of each of the 14 communities along the trail, who walked a banner to the stage. The banners are a gift from Dallas County Conservation to each community to place and use as the officials see fit.

"The trail has been such a long time coming," Pattee said in a later interview. "This trail is a chance to showcase our town. It would be nice if people who visit leave a little money here, sure, but most of all, I just hope that people will enjoy it and have really fond memories of coming to this town, a fond experience of Perry, Iowa," he said. Each day since the Grand Opening, Pattee has seen vehicles parked in Perry with bike racks on the back. "We will see people coming here from many places, even from Europe, as word gets out," he said.

The RRVT trail, which cost approximately $8.5 million from start to finish, has been a series of completions stretching from 1989 through late May when the loop trail now travels through Jamaica, Dawson, Perry, Minburn, Dallas Center, Waukee, Adel, Redfield Linden, Panora, Yale and Herndon, and extends up through Cooper and Jefferson. The trail also connects to the Des Moines metro trail system, which can be traversed into downtown Des Moines. Master of Ceremonies Chuck Offenburger masterfully kept the event running as he talked about the trail completion and introduced Mike Wallace, Dallas County Conservation director, and Keynote Speaker Kevin Cooney. Cooney reflected on the many years of trail work. "For the past 10 years maps of Dallas County and the RRVT have had dots and dashes on them… teasing us… taunting us… A voice from the future saying, ‘Cooney, if your knees hold out… and you stay alive… maybe you will see,’ " this completed.

"This week I was in the web site and I noticed the map. No dots. No dashes on the maps," he said. The connection on the map means more than just connecting the dots, Cooney noted.

"Mike Wallace, the Dallas County Conservation director was telling me about the importance of connections. They are like roads. A bunch of roads don’t do much if they just go from one place to another place and that’s all. You can have trails, but when they connect you have a system, a plan, a network or route, a loop.

Cooney, a news anchor at KCCI TV 8 and an avid bicyclist, also has been supportive of the RRVT and its progress. Together, the trail is about 89 miles long. While there are other loop trails in the United States, completion of the final section this year creates the longest paved loop in the nation.

"I’m already hearing talk about the loop as a challenge. In the past week I bet I’ve had 10 people talk about ‘doing the loop’," he said. "It’s already become a goal, a challenge, an appointment, a date a weekend. Barb Hansen from here in Perry told me yesterday she wants to do the loop."

Wallace reiterated the creation of community among the trail towns is important because what one community does to better itself also has an effect on the other communities. He also recognized the county conservation board directors from Greene and Guthrie Counties, their staff people and the many other people who helped in completion of the trail.

Offenburger noted how huge the completion of the trail is in terms of drawing cyclists through the trail communities and business, which in turn see increased business, said Offenburger, an active member of the RRVT Association, as well as an author, columnist and avid cyclist.

In an interview earlier in the day, Offenburger noted that completion of the trail means five more towns – Dallas Center, Minburn, Perry, Dawson and Jamaica – have a whole new identity. "They get to become trail towns. That’s a terrific advantage to those five towns. This paved loop is something that no other trail in the United States has. As a result, the RRVT becomes more of a destination trail," Offenburger said. "People can spend several days in the area and do a different ride every day."

Cyclist Norton Hatlie of West Des Moines rode 100 miles, including the new loop, to get to Saturday’s event.

"We rode 75 miles around to Perry from West Des Moines and will ride 25 miles back to Des Moines after the event," he said.

Hatlie said he rides with a group of friends to Redfield where they have breakfast. The group is now discovering Perry and where they can go when they ride into town.

Daniel Willrich, RRVT Association president and a Dallas Center City Council member, said in an interview Saturday that the trail completion will be huge for Dallas Center. "The downtown restaurant, The Longest Yard, is already seeing an increase in business from people coming in off the trail." The restaurant owners are looking at adding some items to the menu specific to trail users. Willrich said they are also keeping some bike items, such as replacement tire tubes, handy. Dallas Center is working on a trail head across from the library, he said. He also said that a new focus now that the trail loop is completed will be on bringing officials and residents from all the 14 communities together to improve the trail experience as a whole.

A group called Common Thread was created to do just that, and includes representatives from each of the trail communities. Coming up with ways to get trail users into each community is something the group will work on, Willrich said.

He used Dallas Center as an example. "We are building a new pool and the question is how we engage trail users with the new pool," he said.

Adel Mayor Jim Peters said in a later interview he expects trail traffic to increase in Adel, a portion of the trail that was among the first sections created. "On the Sunday after the ceremony, I was driving to Des Moines, and saw that the Waukee trailhead was packed with cars that had bike racks. There are two parking lots there, around 100 cars I think," he said

Adel has always seen an impact with the bike trail – at the local ice cream shop, Subway, gas stations, convenience stores, local restaurants and bars, he said.

"One thing that impressed me when I was in Perry for the ceremony was the trail head there. Perry has created a nice place for trail users to stop," Peters said. "That is something Adel needs to work on and establish. I would like to see Adel establish a real nice inviting area for trail users to enjoy."