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Despite rain, city’s big weekend deemed successful

By September 19, 2014Coalition News

WESTBROOK – The city and its event organizers and volunteers are decompressing this week following a flurry of weekend events that brought thousands of people to Westbrook. And while rain did dampen turnout for the city’s first open-street event, organizers of both BikeMaine and Mudderella, a sister to Tough Mudder, say they were pleased with how things went.
Abby King, the advocacy coordinator for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, the organization behind BikeMaine and the open-streets event, said Saturday afternoon during a lull in activity that the idea proved a success for families taking advantage of the Main Street closure.
“We were definitely really busy,” she said, adding that a lot of kids used the “rodeo course,” decorated their bikes, and participated in dance and yoga classes.
While King said it was hard to say how many people came through, she was confident that it was least a couple hundred.
“For this being the first year, I think we had a great turnout,” she said. “I talked to a lot of people who were really excited to be able to walk and bike through the streets on a Saturday.”

Zoe Miller, of the Opportunity Alliance’s Public Health Program, said Saturday afternoon that the event gave her the opportunity to connect with people in the community who are interested in likeminded goals.
“It’s also nice to just be able to use the street like this,” she said, referring to her son, who was riding up and down Main Street.
The weather, with light rain and forecasted thunderstorms, caused the cancellation of a planned parade that would have ended the event and taken BikeMaine riders down Main Street to Riverbank Park.
Miller said that despite the effect that had on the turnout, the goal of open-streets events is to change people’s perspective.
“We could have had more people, but what’s behind the event is for people to begin to think about streets differently,” she said. “To see that parents and kids came out, and brought bikes, and felt an attraction to be able to be in the street. That makes it a success in my eyes.”
Her program works as part of a group of organizations that make up the PHiT group, known as Public Health in Transportation, who advocate and organize events like Saturday’s open-streets road closure.
Brian Kinney, along with his wife Carol, and son Ashton, said Saturday that they came in town to check out the open street, as well as look in on the cyclists setting up camp in Riverbank Park.
Kinney said that while the event is worthwhile, he’d like to see it expanded.
“I’d like to see more here,” he said. “If they brought some vendors down, they might attract some more people just to come down for some food and maybe drag the kids along to have some fun.”
City Clerk Lynda Adams said she felt that the earlier open-streets event was a success given the weather and it being the first such event in Westbrook.
At the other end of the street, in Riverbank Park, Adams was rallying volunteers to make some last-minute preparations for the impending storm. Adams said Wednesday that the group was forced to move the cyclists’ community meal and live entertainment into the American Legion Hall on Dunn Street, but that it was still a success.
“All the pieces really came together to make this a community event,” she said, adding that multiple participants from BikeMaine commented on the volunteer support the event received. “Everybody was positive and working together, and that’s how we were able to make all those changes.”
More than 250 riders camped in tents in the park Saturday night, despite the rain, and took off on the weeklong trek Sunday morning.
“These people are used to being outside, and used to sleeping in the elements,” Adams said. “They were all prepared, and I heard nothing but positive things from everybody. A lot of people hadn’t been to Westbrook before. They loved the town, and loved the park.”
Adams said that some riders, who live locally, arrived Sunday morning, and she scrambled to provide shuttle service for the riders who parked at Idexx Laboratories.
The riders will return Saturday, Sept. 13, by way of Falmouth, back through Main Street, and head up Spring Street to Idexx, where the official finish line will be set up. The city is putting on a barbecue for the riders, who will be coming  in between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
A few miles away Saturday, at Sunset Ridge Golf Links, thousands of registered participants for Mudderella Boston, a sister event to the Tough Mudder obstacle course challenge, had made the last-minute travel adjustments to come to Westbrook.
While the announcement of the venue change rattled some of the event’s registrants, who cried foul over the organization’s lack of a refund policy, Antonia Clark, head of marketing for Mudderella, said Wednesday that the event on Saturday was “excellent,” despite some negativity on social media.
“The atmosphere on site was absolutely electric. While the numbers for the event are still coming in, as predicted, several thousand women ‘Owned Their Strong’ over the course of the day, with thousands of spectators cheering them on,” she said.
Clark added that Sunset Ridge, which also hosted the Tough Mudder two weeks ago, provided the organization “with a great blank canvas to build a fun and challenging course, and operationally everything ran smoothly.”
According to Bill Baker, Westbrook’s assistant city administrator for business and community relations, Mudderella brought even more attention to the city, with Boston media outlets putting the city “in the spotlight.”
Following Tough Mudder, Baker responded to lukewarm reactions from some downtown businesses by offering spots on site for selling food and drinks. While Severino’s Variety, not far from Sunset Ridge on Cumberland Street, didn’t see a large uptick during Tough Mudder, the business sold pizza and other food during Mudderella.
“Several thousand more people are now familiar with the great things that the city of Westbrook has to offer,” Baker said Wednesday.