Each July, more than 9,500 people pedal across the state of Iowa, covering a total distance of more than 400 miles in just seven days. The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) attracts cyclists from across the globe.
Cyclists travel from one Iowa town to the next, enjoying the Midwest hospitality. Iowa residents living along the route can watch the swarms of bicyclists ride by for hours straight.
For the past 10 years, the Iowa office of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has partnered with Iowa conservation groups to form the “Iowa Conservation Team” to assist riders. The team sets up a tent site each day along the route to provide riders with a place to refill water bottles, send free conservation-themed postcards and enjoy free bananas while taking a break from the heat.
Volunteers are up early each day setting up the tent site, filling up water coolers and preparing for the hundreds of riders who will stop by the site that day. One or two cyclists ride by occasionally in the early morning, but as soon as bike traffic increases later in the morning, bananas and postcards last only a couple of hours.
Many riders have become familiar with the tent site and look forward to stopping there each day. During the 2012 ride, nearly 8,000 bananas (more than 3,200 pounds) were handed out and more than 3,500 post cards were sent to friends and family of RAGBRAI riders, including several that were mailed to locations outside the United States.
The partnership began in 2002 as an outreach project to educate riders about conservation and Iowa agriculture. Laura Crowell, NRCS state public affairs specialist in Iowa, says the Iowa Conservation Team has increased awareness of conservation efforts in Iowa and the organizations that help to accomplish those efforts.
In addition to staffing the tent during RAGBRAI, the Iowa Conservation Team places permanent signs along the roadways to show conservation efforts in Iowa. The route changes each year, so the signs can be found year-round throughout the entire state.
“Cyclists are surrounded by conservation efforts each day along the route, so RAGBRAI is the perfect setting to show the impact of conservation in Iowa,” Crowell says.
The hard work of Earth Team volunteers like Duane Miller makes this event a success each year. Miller, a retired NRCS employee who continues conservation work as an Earth Team volunteer, says, “One of the things I like best about RABGRAI is that my granddaughters, their aunt (my daughter) and myself get to volunteer one day on the route. It is always great fun and they are excellent help.”
Find out how to become an Earth Team volunteer in your community.
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Check out other conservation-related stories on the USDA blog.