CARIBOU — Over the past few decades, cycling has become much more popular in Aroostook County. Maps available in area stores and websites point out the best cycling routes, the Maine Winter Sports Center is constantly upgrading its mountain biking trails and bicycle shops in locations such as Van Buren and Presque Isle offer top-of-the line equipment for bikers.
Seeking to capitalize on that popularity and the growing interest in bicycle treks, officials at Cary Medical Center in Caribou announced on Tuesday plans to host a two-day, 135-mile cycling tour event that will benefit Camp Adventure, a summer residential camp for children ages 12-17 with Type 1 diabetes.
The event, Ride Aroostook, will be held July 16-17 and will be based out of the University of Maine at Presque Isle.
Bill Flagg, director of community relations and development at Cary Medical Center, said the event was inspired by similar rides in southern Maine.
“For many years I have heard about the success of bicycle rides like the Trek Across Maine and the Dempsey Challenge”, said Flagg, who is coordinating the fundraising event. “Last year I volunteered at the Trek Across Maine and was so impressed. I figured why couldn’t we do something like this in Aroostook County?”
Participants will ride 135 miles over two days. The route is configured like a clover leaf with riders completing the first 35-mile loop by heading north to Caribou along the Aroostook River on Saturday morning and coming back to UMPI through the potato farms of central Aroostook. The afternoon will point riders toward Easton and bring them into Mars Hill before they return to UMPI.
On the second day, riders will ride into the Amish country in Fort Fairfield during Maine Potato Blossom Festival weekend. The final loop of the four-leaf clover ride will bring participants west toward Mapleton and along more of the Aroostook River.
Flagg said the event not only will raise money for children with diabetes, it also will showcase The County in the summer.
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Associaton. In Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, which is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. Only 5 percent of people with diabetes have this form of the disease, according to the ADA. Patients rely on insulin therapy and other treatments to manage their condition.
Based in Caribou, Camp Adventure is now attracting children with Type 1 diabetes from all over Maine and even out of state, according to Flagg.
The camp has a waiting list and additional funding is needed to expand staff to handle more children. Flagg said the goal of Ride Aroostook is to raise enough funds to support the expansion of the camp on an ongoing basis.
“We all know the impact that snowmobiling has on the economy of The County in winter”, he said. “But we have a beautiful summer as well and people not familiar with the beauty of this region of Maine are in for a real treat.”
Brent Jepson, a board member at Cary Medical Center, has participated in a number of Trek Across Maine and Dempsey Challenge fundraising rides. He said he believes the Aroostook event will appeal to riders because the route sees low traffic and involves stunning scenery. The event is not a race, and cyclists will find fully supported rest stops along each loop.
“A number of us from The County make the annual trip downstate to do the trek”, said Jepson. “These events really bring people together for a great cause.”
Flagg said that the cost of hosting the event will be considerable, so organizers have sought sponsorship for the project. In spite of the tough economy, the event is now fully sponsored, with funds topping $25,000, he said.
“We are so impressed with the support we have received,” said Flagg. “I think businesses and individuals are getting caught up in the excitement of a new project that will attract hundreds of people to The County and that this will be an annual event. The volunteers working on our committee and the many generous sponsors have made this event possible, and without them it would just be an idea.”
Organizers of the first annual Ride Aroostook are hoping to draw 300 cyclists in July from throughout Maine, New Brunswick and the Northeast. Organizers said they hope that the event will draw enough to grow that number to 500 in year two.
Major sponsors of the event include FairPoint Communications, Cary Medical Center and the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation.
Individuals interested in participating in Ride Aroostook can go to the event website at www.ridearoostook.org. Volunteers are needed to support the event and financial sponsorships are still available. Call Bill Flagg at Cary Medical Center at 498-1376 for more information.