With participation numbers at rallies across the nation declining in recent years, organizers were very happy when almost 560 riders registered at last week's annual BMW Motorcycle Club of Colorado Top O' the Rockies Rally. That's a few more than last year, and a healthy number, say organizers.
"It's very positive to see this going up," said Rally Master Matthew Baroody. That the national rally was held the week before in Salt Lake City may have had something to do with that, but Baroody believes that word of mouth is driving the numbers. People all across the country are saying that this is the best rally in the west, he said. "That's due to the park and the town as much as the BMW club."
This was the rally's 28th consecutive year in Paonia. Each year the event pours people and money into the community. While no exact figures are available, it's estimated that upwards of $50,000 or more has gone to local youth and nonprofit organizations and community causes over the years. "The benefits are wide and varied and we really appreciate it," said local organizer Bob Bushta.
The BMW club is considered a major sponsor of Cherry Days, said Bushta. For the past two rallies the Cherry Days Committee has operated the beer garden to earn seed money for the festival.
Youth groups are big beneficiaries of the rally. The annual Kids Pasta Project fundraiser dinner, which sold out for the second year in a row, benefits the Paonia High School junior class prom. And the senior class raises money by preparing and serving breakfast daily. The local Boy Scout Troop helped erect tents in the park, and the Mormon Church youth group sold bags of ice.
A bake sale held throughout the rally benefited The Abraham Connection Homeless Shelter in Delta. Last Saturday morning volunteer Marla Carlson stood before a table covered in freshly-baked quick breads, cookies, muffins and scones. Everything sold out Friday night during the Kids Pasta dinner, said Carlson. A call was put out on Facebook, and by morning they were fully stocked.
One can't talk about the rally without mentioning Ellen Hansen Smith, who for 22 years was the rally's local organizer. "She made it happen," said Renee Atchley, who volunteered for the event starting in about 1998. "She did everything."
Under Smith's guidance numerous community and kids' organizations began using the rally to earn money. Over several years the Paonia High School band program earned enough to help purchase a trailer to store and haul their instruments and buy some 80 band uniforms. At one point the Paonia Volunteer Fire Department hosted the Saturday night dinner or grilled ribs. Cindy Swartzendruber sold watermelon and cantaloupe for the local baseball program, and the local Boy Scout Troop sold grilled Olathe Sweet Corn on the cob. "They sat there and cooked it all day," said Atchley.
At one time there was an annual softball game between the local girls' youth team and the Beamers to raise money for team uniforms.
Hansen Smith died unexpectedly in May of 2012. Atchley suddenly found herself in charge of running the rally. "That was a really hard year," she said. The Beamers hired a caterer, "The Purple Bus," out of Boulder. "It was a major disaster." It poured rain, dinner was late, and not very well executed. "I really thought, honestly, they wouldn't be back."
The next year Bushta took over local organizing efforts. "He dug his heels in and made it work," said Atchley.
The Ellen Hansen Smith Teen Center still opens its doors for the rally, providing courtesy coffee, Internet access, a registration desk and a place to hang out. Donations from the BMWMCC cover the center's annual operating costs, said Bushta.
During closing ceremonies, rally master Baroody presented Paonia Mayor Charles Stewart with a check for $5,000. The money will beneift town parks, maintenance of the Miner's Statue area, and Paonia High School, which opens campus for camping and locker rooms for showers. The school janitor will also receive a bonus.
"Summer would not be summer without you folks," said Mayor Stewart. "You are very much a part of who we are. Thank you all. And I want to make sure you all come back."
This year's youngest rider was 15-year-old Tyler Stenson, of Denver. At 85 years, 10 months and 28 days, Jim "Ancient Jim" McLagan was the oldest rider. Ancient Jim took the microphone to announce that he as a for sale, as this is his last big ride.
He's tried to win the honor the last few years, and finally won, said Baroody during Saturday night's closing ceremonies. The oldest bike was a 1974 R90/6 with 159,000 miles, and Denver resident Weidong Han, who arrived at the rally via Dayton, Ohio, Colorado, Phoenix, California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and the national rally in Salt Lake City, traveled 11,000 miles and won the farthest distance traveled to the rally award.
The rally will be back next, said Baroody. And the BMWMCC is already asking what it can do to celebrate the 30th Top O' the Rockies rally in Paonia in 2019.