Built it and they did come
Twice now in as many years, more than 40 cyclists from Madison, Wisconsin, have made the 300-plus-mile trip to the little town of Perry, Iowa, to bike an 89-mile loop on a flat paved trail.
That’s more riders than rooms in the Pattee Hotel, Perry’s century-old and fully restored downtown boutique guesthouse. But with indoor bike parking for hotel guests, a bike repair station out front, bike rentals available next door and packages that include shuttle service, the hotel caters to bicyclists from out-of-town.
Perry (population 7,700) also happens to be the gateway to the newly completed Raccoon River Valley Trail, which includes a 72-mile main loop through several other small towns with their own home-spun attractions.
Connecting the dots between Madison and Perry was pretty straight forward. The latter’s mayor, Jay Pattee, urged his sister, Marianne Pattee (the siblings are distantly related, if at all, to the namesake of the hotel) to bring her cycling friends from Madison.
“I said to her, ‘Don’t go back and tell just a couple people about our trail,’” Jay Pattee recalled. He wanted her to organize a ride starting in his town 40 miles northwest of Des Moines.
“Yeah, right,” Marianne recalls thinking. But she was charmed by a tour of the hotel and trail soon after the trailhead at Perry was completed in April 2014. Later that spring she convinced 40 fellow riders from Madison to do the first annual Early 80s Ride, a reference to the distance of the trail loop plus two out-and-back spurs. Then this past April she brought 50-some cyclists to town, including three couples from Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
“That’s a long ride early in the riding season, but I tell people it’s flat,” Marianne Pattee said. “Next year we’re taking over the entire hotel. People are already making reservations.”
That’s good news to Jay and Denise Hartz who have owned the Pattee Hotel since 2013.
“I have made it very clear from Day One that our cycling friends can come into our dining room, lounge or any part of the hotel – wearing their cycling shoes and biking gear – and we will great them with a smile and offer services such as filling water bottles, charging smart phones, etcetera,” Jay Hartz said.
Previous owners sunk $12 million into refurbishing the hotel in 1996 but neither they nor a hotel management company could keep the uniquely decorated rooms full of enough guests to make their money back. The Hartzes (three of their four children work in the hotel, too) are appreciative of the 53 local investors who chipped in $750,000 to make their purchase of the hotel possible.
“This community is unlike any I have ever experienced in my lifetime,” Jay Hartz said. “From the first day I set foot in this town, there was and still is a sense of community pride and ownership with regards to the Hotel Pattee.”
Local history is incorporated into the decor and each guest room has a theme. “The Satchmo room honors Louis Armstrong who was refused lodging in Des Moines,” said Phil Van Valkenberg, a guest of hotel the weekend of the Early 80s Ride. “We stayed in the Chatauqua room with it’s portrait of Teddy Roosevelt.”
Valkenberg noted that the restored Arts and Crafts-style hotel was on the railway route of Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha high-speed passenger trains.
Small town offerings
That rail line is the heart of the trail that cyclists now enjoy. The town of Minburn, 6.5 trail miles southeast of Perry, has a remodeled train depot now occupied by a café. Continue on to Dallas Center for ice cream on evenings when a movie is projected on the side of a downtown building. A few miles farther and you hit Waukee which has a sculpture park and host “Get Lit” rides with glowing bike accessories for those who donate money toward construction of a trailhead there.
In the other direction from Perry is the town of Jamaica, best known for the tenderloin served at Tojo’s Bar and Grill. Several other communities, up to Jefferson and back and on the rest of the loop, await discovery, too.
High Trestle Trail
Perry is also little more than 10 country miles from Woodward and the High Trestle Trail Bridge, a 13-story high, half-mile long nonmotorized bridge spanning the Des Moines River. The bridge, which is stunningly lit up at night, is the start of a 25-mile trail to Ankeny.
One day the High Trestle Trail and Raccoon River Valley Trail will be connected. While the project is expected to cost $5 million, route selection, trail design and fund-raising are underway.
Joel Patenaude is the editor of Silent Sports.