The first-ever Gran Fondo Festival kicks off this weekend in Nebraska City, Peru, and Brownville, the three towns along the Steamboat Trace biking and walking trail along the banks of the Missouri River.
Steamboat Trace connects the three towns beginning at a trailhead at the Omaha Public Power District plant (OPPD) just south of Nebraska City, skirting Peru and ending in Brownville.
Various groups of residents of the towns, brainstorming ways to celebrate Nebraska's sesquicentennial, concluded that Steamboat Trace is “one of our best assets…an underutilized hidden treasure,” said Kelly Bequette at Wednesday morning's Hot Topics meeting at Scooter’s coffeeshop in Nebraska City. Bequette manages The Keeping Room in Nebraska City.
The festival is intended to offer people an experience of part or all of Steamboat Trace and the three towns along the trail.
The local residents involved in launching the Gran Fondo Festival hope that the event will  motivate construction of the final leg of Steamboat Trace, connecting the OPPD terminus to Arbor Lodge in Nebraska City.
Bequette and Jason Hogue, Director of Marketing and Communications at Peru State College, summarized the many events to take place Friday and Saturday, Oct. 13 and 14.
The festival kicks off on Friday evening, Oct. 13, with a banquet at Lied Lodge at 6 p.m. hosted by the Arbor Day Foundation. Tom Farrell of Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce (NCTC) will speak, and photographer Bill Clemente, English professor at Peru State College, will show slides of photographs of Steamboat Trace he has taken over the years. The cost of the banquet is $50.
The Gran Fondo bike ride (Italian for a long-distance bicycle race for everyone) begins Saturday at 8:30 a.m., with cyclists registrating at the OPPD trailhead. The cost is $50. For details, call Jim Thurman at 402-873-7509.
The Steamboat Trace ride is not primarily a competition, though one segment will feature an extra, timed lap near the Cooper power station in Brownville. The emphasis, said Bequette, is to “enjoy the day.”
Participants can do all or part of the 16-mile route, biking or walking. There is no charge for walking the trail.
There will be bus service from 9 a.m. To 5 p.m. along the route. A wrist band good for rides all day can be purchased for ten dollars at the bus stops. Buses will stop at half-hour intervals at Arbor Day Fram in Nebraska City; in Peru at the trailhead, downtown, and at the college; and in downtown Brownville and Whiskey Run. In Nebraska City, all-day family-fun activities include hayrack rides, U-Pick apples, food and drink at Kimmel orchard, and bounce houses, a rock climbing wall, the Horn T Zoo and games at the Memorial Building downtown.
Arbor Day Farm will also have hayrack rides, U-Pick apples, a corn maze, and Creepy Crawly Days. Arbor Lodge will hold a Mountain Man Rendezvous with beadwork, leather crafting, and tomahawk throwing.
Local museums will be open, and there will be a beer garden, food, and live music until midnight at Memorial Way.
The Peru Museum will feature a Steamboat Trace Historical Display. At the college's art gallery in the A. V. Larsen building, work of renowned Nebraska illustrator John Philip Falter is on view. Next door to Larsen in the Little Red Schoolhouse, the college's new Visitor and Interpretive Center will be open.
Peru will also have live music by folk guitarists Kevin Boos at the trailhead, and music professor Dan Holtz in the Peru College Student Center.
Downtown Peru will have a classic car and truck show, and food and drink aplenty.
At the Peru trailhead, Bill Clemente will talk about the Roland Sherman sandstone rock carvings along the trail and other interesting aspects of its history.
There will also be a hospitality stop and a first aid station at the trailhead.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Brownville Historical Society will celebrate its annual “Old Time Autumn” festival with Civil War re‑enactments, a regionally recognized quilt exhibition, and crafts.
Brownville museums will be open, with the Railroad Museum offering train rides for children from 10 a.m. to noon.
A Chicken and Biscuit Luncheon will be served in the Town Hall from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will be riverfront carriage rides and boat rides, with the Spirit of Brownville casting off at 3 p.m.
At the Brownville Village Theatre, the Willa Cather play “Resurrection” will be performed at 2 p.m. No reservations will be taken, so theatergoers should arrive half an hour early for seating.
Also at the Village Theatre, Dan Holtz will perform a concert of original songs and stories celebrating Nebraska history at 6 p.m.  Brochures with complete listings of activities are available around town, or on the NCTC website at http://gonebraskacity.com. Gran Fondo registration and tickets for the Friday night banquet are at http://www.steamboattrace.com/buy-tickets.html.