There will be a little different feel -- and maybe even more fun -- at the 11th annual fundraising banquet of the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association on Saturday, Feb. 24, in the grand ballroom of the Marriott Hotel here.
Instead of having a keynote speaker, as the association has had at most of its past 10 banquets, there will be three different shorter messages. The three will tell an amazing story about the growth of bicycling in general in Iowa, as well as the mushrooming popularity of the RRVT. Our 89-mile paved trail connects 14 communities and three counties in west central Iowa to the trail system of the Des Moines metropolitan area and its trail system, and the RRVT draws more than 350,000 users per year.
After the late-afternoon social hour and early-evening banquet meal, we'll hear a reflection from Scott Sumpter, of the Des Moines area, who has become one of the best-known bicyclists in Iowa and has a well-deserved reputation as a quick-witted raconteur about the sport. Following Sumpter's stories, trail & art activist Jim Miller, of rural Waukee, will deliver an update on the $1.1 million "Waukee Railroad Pergola -- in the shadow of the rails" public art project, which will be dedicated on the RRVT this spring. Then Mike Wallace, director of Dallas County Conservation and one of the preeminent trail developers in the nation, will update the fundraising campaign for the $5 million, 9-mile "Connector" trail, on which work will start this spring to link the RRVT and High Trestle Trails.
Banquet tickets, at $50 per person, are on sale now. You can buy them online, reserve whole tables for $500, and get the time schedule and more information about the banquet by clicking right here. For information about corporate, organizational or private sponsorships of the banquet, contact Mike Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The banquet is the RRVT Association's one fundraiser of every year, generating the financial resources the non-profit group uses to market and promote the trail and all the communities along it, as well as providing matching funds for some grants. And this year, in order to assist the campaign for donations for the "Connector" trail, the association will do a dollar-for-dollar match for the first $7,500 donated to that fund at the banquet.
Cooper Riley, of Clive, president of the RRVT Association, said the plan is "to have a fun, high energy event to celebrate the trail, and raise funds to continue marketing and promoting it."
Now, back to our lead-off speaker Scott Sumpter. Many cyclists just know him as "The Beard," as he has worn a distinctive, long beard for the past 12 years.
But most come to appreciate him as the founder and "still the lead mule" of BIKEIOWA.com, the 17-year-old informational website that is like a "Bible for Bicyclists" in this state. It's the go-to place for people wanting to know about bicycle events, clubs, sales, advocacy and more.
Those who've encountered Sumpter when he's on one of his 15 bicycles, riding "5,000 to 6,000 miles per year," can testify that he is an enthusiastic ambassador for cycling. He'll display some of that as he delivers an "ice-breaker" message about the fun we all have riding, and how he got into it himself.
"I mean, back in the '80s and '90s, I was a total motorcycles guy," the 50-year-old Sumpter recalled. That started in and around his hometown of Alexander in north central Iowa, and he graduated from CAL High School in Latimer. He joined an Iowa Army National Guard infantry unit in his junior year of high school, stayed 10 years and rose to the rank of staff sergeant. In 1993, he decided to leave the Guard in order to take classes at Des Moines Area Community College and focus on his career in computer programming and web development.
It was while he was working at Principal Financial that he began riding a bicycle occasionally. "As I got more interested, I noticed that on Mondays, I'd be hearing from co-workers about all these neat rides they'd gone on over the weekend," Sumpter said. "I'd be asking, 'How do you people hear about all these events?' That's what led me to start BIKEIOWA.com -- I wanted to create a site where people could post notices about cycling events so it would be easier for the public to find out about them."
His latest passion in cycling has been using fat-tired or mountain bikes in racing on gravel roads. "I did 1,200 miles in racing on gravel this past season," he said. "It was actually one of those things of, 'O.K., Scott, you're turning 50 years old now, so let's get you into racing and prove that you've still got it.' "
Besides all the time he volunteers in administering BIKEIOWA.com, he's worked the last 11 years full-time for Wells Fargo as a web developer, coder and now a web engineer. Earlier, he worked part-time for that company for five years as a contract employee.
Jim Miller, who will give the update on the big public art project, lives between West Des Moines and Waukee, and is a wealth advisor and certified financial planner with The Market Street Group at Morgan Stanley. He got involved with the RRVT as a member of the association's board of directors, eventually a member of the Dallas County Conservation Board and now as a member of the Waukee Public Art Committee. He and Randy Jensen, of the RRVT Association, have taken the lead on the fundraising that has generated government grants as well as donations from foundations, corporations and individuals. The big, colorful "Pergola" project is nearing completion at the RRVT's gateway trailhead on the west side of Waukee, and there will be smaller installations of the same design at a half-dozen other trailheads, stretching all the way to Jefferson on the north. It is the creation of "transportation artist' David Dahlquist and his colleagues at RDG Planning & Design in Des Moines.
Mike Wallace, who will update the crowd on the "Connector" trail campaign, has been involved with developing the RRVT from its beginning in the mid 1980s when the railroad abandoned the route and sold the right-of-way to the county conservation boards for development as a recreational has trail. Wallace, a native of Boone, was working then as Guthrie County Conservation director. He left for a brief time with Black Hawk County Conservation in northeast Iowa, then returned as director of Dallas County Conservation. He has been much involved as the RRVT has grown from its original 39 miles to its 89 miles today, including the $8 million, 33-mile "north loop" addition, which was dedicated in 2013.
At the banquet, there will again be silent and live auctions during the evening. We will be detailing some of the auction items in the coming weeks in stories on this website.