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In this file photo, riders in the MS TRAM tour pedaled north on the Paul Bunyan Trail near Nisswa, Minn., July 27, 2010, in a heavy downpour. (AP Photo/Brainerd Dispatch, Steve Kohls)

250-mile bike tour expected to bring more than 1,000 to Bemidji, Park Rapids

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BEMIDJI - More than 1,000 visitors are expected to arrive Sunday in Bemidji as the city for the first time hosts MS TRAM, a 250-mile bicycle ride.

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"We have the opportunity to wow upwards of 1,000 folks in one afternoon or evening," said Lori Paris, president of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce.

The five-day TRAM - The Ride Across Minnesota - is held annually in different parts of the state. This year's ride goes from Bemidji to Alexandria with overnight stops in Walker, Park Rapids, Wadena and Fergus Falls.

"Bemidji's beautiful," said Anna Kucera, marketing and public relations director for the National MS Society Upper Midwest Chapter. "The city really is rolling out the red carpet for us. We're happy to be there."

More than 800 cyclists are registered for the event, which aims this year to raise more than $820,000 for funding for Multiple Sclerosis, an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Each cyclist raises $300 in donations in addition to paying a registration fee.

While the TRAM begins Monday morning, cyclists and volunteers will begin arriving Sunday afternoon in Bemidji.

More than two-thirds of those involved will camp that evening in the Lake Bemidji waterfront - a special allowance granted by the city of Bemidji- while the remainder will stay in hotels and volunteers' homes.

Entertainment will be provided at the waterfront beginning at 4 p.m. Folk singer Aaron Tuck will perform from 4-5 p.m. and groups from the Headwaters School of Music will perform from 5-7 p.m. An official welcoming ceremony begins at 7 p.m. and Wooden Nickels will perform pop, rock and country music from 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, Let's Go Fishing is offering pontoon rides around Lake Bemidji. Other options include cornhole games (bean bag toss) and access to a bicycle-powered blender. And, of course, Paul and Babe will be available for photos.

"We hope to be impressive enough that they'll want to come back for a longer stay another time," Paris said.

Food vending will be available from 5-9:30 p.m. as Keg n Cork will offer light and dark beer and pulled pork and sides. Stittsworth Meats will offer brats and Wild Hare Bistro will offer veggie and chicken wraps.

Downtown businesses also were encouraged to stay open Sunday evening to welcome TRAM participants.

"This is an incredible opportunity for our community," Paris said, noting the Tourist Information Center itself is staying open later Sunday. "It's time for Bemidji to pull out the welcome mat."

The Cabin Coffeehouse and Café will offer a la carte items at the waterfront from 5:30-7:30 a.m. Monday as cyclists prepare to leave.

The bike route officially opens at 6:30 a.m. Monday and will remain open for about two hours as cyclists begin their journey to Walker, Kucera said.

Paris said TRAM contacted her earlier this year and planning has been underway ever since.

Sponsorships - including the city, Chamber of Commerce, VisitBemidji, First National Bank Bemidji, Sanford Bemidji, Active Living and the Downtown Development Authority - have been secured to help defray the costs.

Community groups have stepped up to help provide manpower, Paris said. The Bemidji Bike Club is helping unload bicycles as participants arrive Sunday and Troy Hendricks, activities director for Bemidji High School, is having players available to help load luggage Monday morning.

Paul Bunyan Communications is providing temporary Wi-Fi access for the event. A cell phone-charging station also will be available.

Beltrami County Emergency Management was contacted in advance to ensure a plan is in place to provide emergency services to those in the waterfront if, for instance, another dramatic storm hits the region, Paris noted.

"Everyone seems to be pretty open and excited about this event," she said.

Paris said the event will showcase all that Bemidji has to offer, crediting the city of Bemidji with allowing TRAM participants to camp in the waterfront.

"Marcia was great," she said, referencing Marcia Larson, the city's Parks and Recreation director. "I don't know if we could have put together a more amazing venue."

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