More than 1,000 cyclists to visit county

Next week Louisville is going to offer more 1,000 tired and thirsty tourists some much needed rest. 
“We’re expecting the first of them to come rolling in here around 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 6,” former county Chamber President Lil Easterlin said last week. “The rest will meander their way down, resting when they want, but the bulk will come in between 2 p.m and 4 p.m.”
The Jefferson County seat is the midpoint of Bike Ride Across Georgia’s (BRAG’s) 2017 350-mile, week-long trek. 
“We were looking at our route, Athens to Brunswick, and you guys are right in the middle,” said BRAG representative Franklin Johnson. “It turns out that it’s a charming and cute little town and there’s a great venue there with the park right next to the school (Louisville Academy).” 
In its 38th year, BRAG is an annual, family-friendly bicycle tour across the state, often ending on the Georgia coast.
With Wednesday being the group’s lay-over day, local drivers should expect to share the county’s picturesque back roads with groups of cyclists through Thursday morning. 
According to the organization’s website, the bikers will leave Thomson Tuesday morning and travel off most major highways, with stretches along Bastonville Road, Blankenship Mill Road, passing through Stapleton, Avera and Edgehill, from which they will take the Grange Road all the way to Louisville, crossing the Ogeechee River on the old steel bridge on Scootch Davis Road before ending at their camp at Louisville Academy.
“Each day there’s a ride from one town to the next and each night there is typically a concert or a festival,” Johnson said. “There’s educational classes where we teach about cycling and we typically throw in some games. There’s a beer trailer we pull behind us the whole way and create a festive atmosphere.”
Easterlin said that city, county and chamber officials have been preparing for this influx for months.
“We’ve been told to expect about 1,200 total people, including riders as well as RVs that follow them, gear trucks and staff,” Easterlin said. “When we were first contacted we were told their own research shows that this group spends about $75,000 a day. That’s the expense of the trip. So even if that’s a little high, it’s still a huge impact on our local economy for restaurants, lodging, some of the shops, gas stations and grocery stores. And this sort of event falls right in line with what we have discussed that the chamber should be looking to do.” 
With the majority of the cyclists camping in and on the grounds at Louisville Academy, the chamber has already been working with local businesses and vendors who will set up for events in Helen Clark Memorial Park. 
“On Tuesday evening we’ll have John Mole’s Front Porch Band, a local bluegrass band, on the stage by 5 p.m.,” Easterlin said. “At 7 there will Pete Love and friends will perform. Wednesday night at 7 p.m. we will have the Rhythm and Stu jazz band performing.”
Throughout the day Wednesday, the chamber has arranged for a shuttle service that will travel from Helen Clark Memorial Park to downtown Louisville, stop at several area restaurants, and even take passengers as far as downtown Bartow.
“We now have Ogeechee Crossing Park open and we’re going to make sure the Historical Society and the Bartow Museum open,” Easterlin said. “Local restaurants will be open as will the Midnight Run Distillery in Bartow. Several local churches will be showing movies.”
During the layover day, there will be a 100-mile Century that leaves Louisville and circles through Edgehill, Avera, Gibson, Mitchell, Jewell and back. 
Johnson encourages area citizens to come out and mingle with the BRAG riders and enjoy the festivities. 
On Thursday the riders will be leaving down Old U.S. Highway One for a 57-mile ride to Metter where they will set up camp that night. 
“We see this as fitting very seamlessly into our plans and having someone here full time like Amy Howard, (who just took over as the chamber’s new director last week) to be able to focus on it full time will be a huge help,” Easterlin said. “We have long had a small hotel/motel tax devoted strictly to tourism development. In the past we have used this money for signage and in our parks. We’ve done that and now it’s time to open our doors and invite people in to see what we have. All of our downtowns look really good.”