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Rally on the River to kick off Aug. 17

It is not often — and some say not often enough — that Ironton gets to step into the spotlight and bask in the glow of a little positive attention.

That all changes on Aug. 17.

In less than two weeks, some 25,000 motorcycle enthusiasts are expected to converge on Ironton for the third annual Rally on the River. The event, organized by the Friends of Ironton, is meant to draw attention — and most importantly money — to the area and its less than enviable economy.

“The purpose is for people from other areas to come to the Tri-State and spend their money here, fill up their cars here, fill up the restaurants here, fill up the motels here,” FOI member Jodi Rowe Collins said. “The purpose is to spur economic development and financial gain.”

Growing in size and popularity

Organizers said the event has grown every year, with an estimated 5,000 bikers and bike enthusiasts showing up the first year and an estimated 10,000-15,000 attending last year. They hope the legion swells another 10,000 this time around. Whether or not the attendance increase may depend a lot on Mother Nature.

“If the weather stays hot that will certainly have some effect,” Rowe Collins said. “But we anticipate it growing.”

Organizers said rally tends to be all-inclusive, with just about every segment of the population represented, male and female, young and old.

“We’ve seen bikers come who are just old enough to get a license all the way up to 80 years old,” FOI President Rick Jansen said.

And some of them travel a great distance to get here.

“We did a study last year, an informal deal and we found they’re coming from something like 33 states,” he said.

“I’m surprised by how far they’re coming. Some of them travel from California, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan, Canada, obviously from Kentucky and Virginia.”

Such groups as Bikers for Christ are usually represented in the ranks of the participants as well.

Guess who’s

coming to dinner?

The visitors have to sleep somewhere and eat somewhere and while some business operators said their bottom line is not affected that much by the influx of bikers, others differ.

Frogtown owner Mark Rutledge said business increases dramatically during the rally.

“We’ve got to have a truck here parked around back with extra food in it,” he said. “We don’t have enough space to keep it all. We don’t have enough freezer space and we’ve got a walk-in that is plumb full of food.”

Rutledge said he usually has to bring in extra pairs of hands, sometimes as many as 10, to prepare those meals and then get the food from kitchen to customer.

“I really thank the Friends of Ironton for putting this on. They do a fantastic job and they work so hard on this.”

Joe Unger, co-owner of Unger Shoes said the sidewalk sales he has for rally weekend do bring in new faces.

“We’ve had a lot of people who have never been to Ironton before and what is the first thing people do when they when they visit a new place is go downtown, see the shops. We’ve had good success with the sidewalk sale,” he said.

Where it’s at

This year, activities will primarily take place on the lot beside U.S. Bank at Second and Center streets near the Park Avenue Apartments and the old depot and along the streets branching out from that area.

That was the site of the first rally, though last year activities were moved to the old Ironton Iron lot several blocks away.

The volunteers

An estimated 100 volunteers will have played some part in the rally by the time the last motorcycle leaves town Sunday. Jansen estimated that those volunteers will have clocked 10,000 man hours of work ensuring the rally’s success.

“We’ll start on the next rally right after this one,” Rowe Collins said. “We’ll meet and start talking about what we’re going to do next year.”

Volunteers will attend other bike shows to promote the event, line up vendors, arrange the next year’s events and schedule entertainment.

Then there is the Web site, www.rallyontheriver.com that must be updated with all the new information. Jansen said many motorcycle enthusiasts learn about the rally through the Internet.

But, as Rowe Collins pointed out, the rally is a labor of love.

“We enjoy it because we think it’s good for the community,” she said. “We definitely don’t do it for the pay — because there is none.”

The events

The rally will include Karaoke Thursday evening, a car show and poker run Saturday and performances by several entertainment acts throughout the weekend.

The lineup includes Team FMX, a freestyle motocross team as well as Second Helping, a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band. Several area radio stations will have live remote broadcasts from Ironton.

In keeping with the idea of having a little something for everyone, there will be inflatable activities for the kids and a Budweiser Beer Belly Championship.

“My favorite is the parade of heroes on Saturday,” Jansen said. “Local law enforcement, firefighters and military lead the parade through the town. That’s the highlight of the weekend for me.”