Having fun, doing good

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TOWNSHEND — Saturday's Tour de Grace Bike Rally broke records with 107 participants. Though the skies were overcast, people from at least eight different states - Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Georgia and, of course, Vermont - showed up to support Grace Cottage Hospital.

The bike rally has been going on for 12 years. Cyclists paid $25 to $30 to register, with about $6,000 raised this year. All proceeds go to Grace Cottage, a nonprofit hospital in operation since 1949. It is designated as a Critical Access Hospital, a status given to hospitals in rural regions to reduce financial vulnerability.

Tour de Grace participant Rudy Deckey said he joins the rally every year, coming 200 miles from his home in New York, because he enjoys helping Grace Cottage. His wife worked there as a nurse some 30 years ago.

The trail is 19 miles, starting at Stratton Mountain Resort and ending at Grace Cottage. The trail generally takes about two hours to complete. It's touted as family friendly and being "mostly down hill." Still, Deckey said he would likely be sore after the race.

Andrea Seaton, director of Grace Cottage Foundation's Office of Community Relations, said there's lots of variety in the trail.

"Some are back roads, some are dirt roads, some are main roads and some are paved trails," she said. They've had riders as young as 4 and as old as 85," Seaton said.

"It's a good event to encourage good health," she added.

Bruce Benson said he came out "to support Grace Cottage, and have fun." He's never used the hospital's services, but he said he has friends and family who have. Benson lives in New Jersey but has a house in Jamaica. He said he enjoys biking down the trails. This was his second year participating in the rally. "The scenery is fantastic," he said. "You see it at a better perspective than when you're driving."

Traci Bartlett and her family were first-time Tour de Grace participants. Bartlett was born at Grace Cottage. She said she has a lot of family members who've worked at the hospital, and every year her family runs the Spring into Health 5K. She also said her family "bikes a lot."

"I'm excited for the variety," she said. Bartlett was riding with four kids and her fiance.

The trail has several stops, including the Townsend Dam. To go to the dam bikers had to ride a dirt trail then walk up a steep set of stairs. Leland & Gray High School students were at the ready to walk the cyclists' bikes up for them. After the dam, bikers got to go through the Scotts Covered Bridge, a new addition to the trail. This was the first time it had been open during the race in several years.

Organizers say there is a great deal of community support for the event.

Jane Hewson loves to bike. She used to ride the trail. Now she helps others navigate it. "I love the hospital and I think people should know about it and support it," she said.

Laura Smith, Reed Erven and Eniko Moseley were volunteering at the Townsend Dam. "We have been doing this stop, on this race, since the first year that they've done it," Smith said. She does it, "because it's fun."

"Everyone's having a good time," Moseley said.

Tucker Wilkinson and Eliza Gosselin from Cota & Cota Oil volunteered to hand out refreshments at the West Townsend Country Store. Both were born at Grace Cottage. "I was born there when it was just a cottage," Wilkinson said.

Gosselin said she participates to help support the community and encourage tourism. They've been handing out refreshments at the bike rally for five years.

The event is sponsored by Stratton Mountain Resort, Cota & Cota Oil, Solstice at Trailside in Stratton, Village Square Shops at Stratton, Howard Printing, Three Mountain Inn, D&K's Jamaica Grocery and Equipe Sport.

Rescue Inc. also helped by checking the bike trails after the event to look out for stragglers.

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext.153. Or you can follow her @birchharmony.

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