LOUISIANA, Mo. -- Tourism officials in Monroe, Ralls and Pike counties are gearing up for an onslaught of visitors on two wheels next week.
It's all part of the Big Bicycle Across Missouri event, which begins Sunday in Weston and ends Friday, June 16, in Louisiana.
About 525 bicyclists are expected to take part in the six-day, 343-mile ride from one side of the state to the other.
The final two legs of the Big BAM will route riders through a number of communities in The Herald-Whig's coverage area, where local officials are planning to offer various types of hospitality.
For example, after camping Wednesday night in Moberly, the bikers will embark Thursday on a 72-mile journey to the east end of Mark Twain Lake for an evening of music, food and fun at the Warren G. See South Spillway below Clarence Cannon Dam. The bikers will camp that night at the Jack Briscoe Group Camp just south of the M.W. Boudreaux Visitors Area.
Along the way Thursday, some of the Big BAM's scheduled stops will include the Union Covered Bridge in Monroe County, the city of Paris, the Monroe County Courthouse, Mark Twain State Park, the Mark Twain Birthplace Shrine in Florida and the city of Perry, which was recently named one of Missouri's 10 prettiest small towns.
Mary Windsor of Paris, who serves on a Mark Twain Lake Chamber of Commerce committee helping to organize the Big BAM's overnight stay at the lake, said the biking event may provide some valuable tourism exposure for the region.
"We definitely hope it's an opportunity to expose some people who may not be familiar with the area to everything we have going on here," she said.
"Our main goal in all of this is to show them enough, on their short trip through, that they'll want to come back and experience all the different areas of interest that we have."
Activities being planned for Big BAM participants at Mark Twain Lake will be open to the public from midday until 11 p.m. Thursday, including a wine tasting from noon to 4 p.m. at the visitor center hosted by Cave Hollow Winery.
Starting at 3 p.m., a beer garden and food vendors will open at the South Spillway. Scheduled entertainment will feature the Matt Roberts Blues Band at 3 p.m. and the Rose Ridge Band at 6 p.m. followed by the evening's featured performers -- the Kay Brothers.
Then on Friday, Big BAM participants will travel the final 49-mile leg of their ride to Louisiana, passing through Center, Frankford and other small communities.
Louisiana officials are preparing a big reception for the riders.
"We've got a little party planned," said Darrell Hampsten, the city's director of economic development. "It's going to be fun. They'll be exhausted and ready to party, and we'll be ready to party with them."
Various activities geared for families are scheduled from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Riverfront Park, including a free train ride for kids, face painting, a bounce house, a bike safety rodeo and a bicycle parade at noon with prizes.
At 3 p.m., food vendors and a beer tent will open in the park and continue until 11 p.m. A fireworks show sponsored by Stark Bros. Nursery will begin at dusk.
Throughout the day, Hampsten said, patrons in the park will cheer for Big BAM participants as they arrive at a finish line near the boat ramp.
"They start the trip by dipping their wheels in the Missouri River on the west side of the state and then they finish it by dipping their wheels in the Mississippi," he said.
Hampsten believes the Big BAM could have a positive tourism impact on Louisiana.
"We've got over 500 people from out of town who probably would have never stopped in Louisiana but will come here and see our beautiful riverfront," he said. "Hopefully they'll like us and come back."