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Smiles along the shores: Loop the Lake Festival sees biggest turnout yet

Babe Mortenson receives a high-five as she crosses the finish line at the Sanford Center for Saturday's Loop the Lake Festival in Bemidji. (Micah Friez | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 5
Kenleigh Johnson, 4, smiles as she celebrates her birthday on Saturday at the Loop the Lake Festival starting point at the Sanford Center. Kenleigh was one of 929 participants in the fourth annual 17-mile ride around Lake Bemidji. (Micah Friez | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 5
Two participants of Saturday's Loop the Lake Festival share a laugh as they leave the starting point at the Sanford Center for the 17-mile bike ride around Lake Bemidji. (Micah Friez | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 5
Parker Bruns (right) lets out a cheer as he and Scott Hurst approach the finish line at the Sanford Center during Saturday's Loop the Lake Festival in Bemidji. (Micah Friez | Bemidji Pioneer)4 / 5
Wendy Otness cruises past the finish line at the Sanford Center with a smile as she becomes one of the first to complete the Loop the Lake Festival bike ride in Bemidji on Saturday. (Micah Friez | Bemidji Pioneer)5 / 5

BEMIDJI -- The 17-mile ride around Lake Bemidji is no small task, but nearly 1,000 people took the challenge head-on as part of the Loop the Lake Festival on Saturday in Bemidji.

A total of 929 riders took part in the fourth annual event, from babies hitching a ride with their parents to experienced bikers cruising the trails to senior couples enjoying the ride together.

Even the weather cooperated, as the forecasted rain held off until after the event to keep everyone dry while they indulged in the food, music and scenery.

“It’s perfect. People are happy and having fun,” said Muriel Gilman, chairwoman of the steering committee for Loop the Lake. “The smiles, the whooping it up, seeing people here on their bikes and getting out and riding (are my favorite parts).”

Each year since the inaugural event in 2014, the festival has quickly expanded in size, beyond Gilman’s expectations. While the first tour had a turnout of approximately 350 people, this year’s 929 is proof of its impact -- and fun -- in Bemidji.

“Super pleased (with the turnout),” Gilman said. “It’s very rewarding when I see people come in.”

While both the start and finish line was at the Sanford Center, riders got to experience the best that Lake Bemidji has to offer around its shores. The path led past the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues downtown, through Diamond Point Park at Bemidji State and north toward Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge. Additionally, the trial brought participants through Lake Bemidji State Park and onto the Paul Bunyan State Trail, with stops for food and water, photo ops and live music all along the way.

Once the bicyclists braved the final stretch and conquered the loop, both the exhausted and the relieved crossed the finish line in triumph.

The same was true for Gilman and the festival committee, whose nine months of preparation paid off Saturday. For all the work that went into Loop the Lake, the 17-mile stretch was worth its distance in gold.

“It’s a lot of work, but rewarding to see the smiles and fun it brings to Bemidji,” said Gilman. “That’s what we love. We just want to get people on their bikes.”

Micah Friez

Micah Friez is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, he is currently studying Creative and Professional Writing at Bemidji State. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.

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