The Susquehanna Valley hosts up to an estimated 1,200 bicyclists this weekend as the gravel road race unPAved returns.

The four-day event is concentrated in the Lewisburg area though the race extends far beyond the borough. Now in its fourth year, unPAved quickly become a top-ranked gravel race nationally, with “Cycling News” adding it to its list of Top 10 races in 2020.

It’s also quickly become a major tourist draw. Andrew Miller, executive director of the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau, estimates up to 75 percent of the bicyclists travel from out of the area, many with friends and family, and pay to stay at least one night. He expects riders and guests to spend $500,000 or more locally this year.

Thursday, Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau decorated the town for the event, including putting ribbons on parking meters.

“I have been thrilled with how unPAved is bouncing back in 2021. We were really hopeful for it,” Miller said.

Bouncing back from the pandemic, that is. Organizers worked with the Visitors Bureau, Lewisburg Downtown Partnership and others to build the race into a multi-day, festival-like attraction. That was scuttled in 2020. Gone was the pub crawl, Lewisburg Fall Festival, post-race party and thousands of visitors. The race was limited to 200 riders. Spectators weren’t allowed.

“Last year was a lot smaller but was also so much work to pull it off,” organizer Dave Pryor said of efforts made to maintain permissions to hold the event and enforce COVID-19 health and safety regulations.

Some changes to unPAved remain in 2021 as precautionary measures to mitigate the potential spread of the airborne disease and increase safety on the courses. Gone is the mass start. Riders can arrive casually Sunday morning at The Lewisburg YMCA at the Miller Center and depart at their leisure. Some sections of the race are now untimed including stops at aid stations. These changes are meant to reduce the number of people gathered in a single place.

But, there are still gatherings.

The un(G)raveled Pub Crawl is today throughout the downtown complete with bike valet parking and a special Kids Night at the Lewisburg Children’s Museum. Rusty Rail Brewery of Mifflinburg is brewing a special beer, Leaf Tunnel Ale, to be served at the Bull Run Tap House in Lewisburg.

The Fall Festival returns, to be held from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at The Piers behind the 600 block of Market Street in Lewisburg. There’s also a social ride at 1 p.m. Saturday that begins at the festival. Monday, there’s a casual Covered Bridge Recovery Ride beginning at Hufnagle Park.

As for unPAved, there are five different courses utilizing back roads and off-road trails in the area of Bald Eagle State Forest, creating multiple loops of varying degrees of difficulty. Six segments, adding up to 43 miles of the full 120-mile course, will be timed to determine the top riders. Pryor estimated 500 riders will take on the full course.

The remaining courses are 90, 50, 30 and 20 miles. They’re not considered races though times will be kept. Some riders will take advantage of an overnight trek, riding into Poe Paddy State Park Saturday and resuming the ride Sunday.

“We had people sign up from Alaska and California. I’m not sure they’re all going to come. It’s certainly a weird time. We draw from the entire country,” Pryor said.

Learn more about unPAved at www.unpavedpennsylvania.com.

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