Tornado-ravaged Greenfield decides to remain on RAGBRAI 2024 route, serve as meeting town

Riders on the RAGBRAI pre-ride inspection route journey through Greenfield on June 4, 2024.
Riders on the RAGBRAI pre-ride inspection route journey through Greenfield on June 4, 2024.

Despite the death and devastation left by a lethal EF4 tornado that tore through Greenfield in May, the city will still serve as the Day 3 meeting town for RAGBRAI on July 23, as announced in April, officials with the ride and Greenfield's RAGBRAI committee said Tuesday.

“After careful consideration and many conversations with local officials and partners, we have decided to welcome the RAGBRAI community on this year’s ride,” Gina School, RAGBRAI Greenfield committee co-chair and a local business owner, said in a news release.

School said the committee had changed its logo and theme to “Greenfield Strong, Rising After the Storm."

Greenfield unveils its new logo and theme for RAGBRAI, "Greenfield Strong, Rising After the Storm."
Greenfield unveils its new logo and theme for RAGBRAI, "Greenfield Strong, Rising After the Storm."

The May 21 tornado, with winds of 175-185 mph, killed four people as it churned through the city of 2,000. It also left a woman dead after smashing her car north of Corning, about 35 miles southwest.

Managers of the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa previously had declined to comment on how the disaster would affect the route. The announcement that Greenfield will continue to participate comes a week after the annual RAGBRAI route inspection ride passed through the Adair County seat on June 4 and ride leaders spoke with town officials to determine what they could do to help them continue as hosts.

School said RAGBRAI and its participants had demonstrated a continual outpouring of concern for the town.

“Since the day after the tornado, the RAGBRAI team and riders from all over the country have reached out with an abundance of love and support,” she said. “We hope to allow riders to see some of the devastation but also experience our beautiful, untouched, historic town square, visit our local businesses and hear the stories of survival and perseverance from our citizens.”

Debris is seen from the EF4 tornado that hit Greenfield on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Greenfield.
Debris is seen from the EF4 tornado that hit Greenfield on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Greenfield.

As that day's RAGBRAI meeting town, Greenfield will play a key role among the seven cities through which the 20,000-plus riders will pass en route from Atlantic to Winterset July 23. It's at Greenfield, roughly the midpoint on the day's 82-mile journey, that teams and individuals can meet up with their support drivers.

At 1,375 feet, it's also the highest point on the hilliest day of the weeklong Glenwood-to-Burlington ride, which will have the most elevation gain in RAGBRAI's 51-year history.

What damage did the tornado cause in Greenfield, Iowa?

Riders on the RAGBRAI pre-ride inspection route journey through Greenfield on June 4, 2024.
Riders on the RAGBRAI pre-ride inspection route journey through Greenfield on June 4, 2024.

In addition to the four people killed, 35 people were injured in Greenfield, and the town continues to clear the wreckage on its south and east sides, where the storm destroyed or damaged about 150 homes and rendered the local hospital unusable.

The Adair and Guthrie County Emergency Management Agency scheduled a final debris pickup for Tuesday morning, three weeks after the storm, and Gov. Kim Reynolds announced she would travel to Greenfield Tuesday for a 3:30 p.m. disaster recovery meeting at City Hall.

Greenfield is the meeting town on Day 3 of RAGBRAI 2024.
Greenfield is the meeting town on Day 3 of RAGBRAI 2024.

The decision to remain a meeting town despite such recent devastation is in part due to the response of RAGBRAI riders, School told the Des Moines Register on Tuesday.

Knowing that riders wanted to support Greenfield, including through monetary donations, helped ease wariness among community members about having so many people visit so soon after the disaster, she said.

Many have said on online RAGBRAI forums that they hope to have a chance to contribute financially and perhaps in other ways to the town's recovery.

"Keep us coming Greenfield!" one rider posted on the Facebook page for the town's RAGBRAI committee. "Ragbraiers only need food drink pie and portapotties but will always give back graciously and do whatever we can passing through."

Anna Abrams, organizer of the RAGBRAI Newbies page, created a GoFundMe to help Greenfield's tornado victims. Abrams encouraged the group's 8,900 members to donate $1 to $5 per mile that they rode on June 1 and 2 to train for RAGBRAI.

There was also a Zwift online ride for members of the group to ride together and donate to the cause.

"Let's help Greenfield recover and rebuild!" Abrams' post said. "Greenfield is helping to support our ride this year, and now they need us to help them get there."

RAGBRAI has history of helping

Parkersburg residents pick up the pieces after their town was hit by a large tornado in 2008.
Parkersburg residents pick up the pieces after their town was hit by a large tornado in 2008.

RAGBRAI has a long history of aiding communities on its route that are overcoming tragedies. In 1993 the ride was almost canceled because of flooding that caused $15 billion in damage and 50 deaths across the Midwest. It went on as planned and "was a huge pick-me-up for Iowa," longtime Register Iowa columnist and ride co-host Chuck Offenburger said last year.

In 2012, Cedar Rapids celebrated its resilience by holding a 40th anniversary bash for RAGBRAI after floods in 2008 devastated its downtown. And in 2010, Parkersburg used RAGBRAI to overcome two tragedies: a 2008 EF5 tornado that killed nine people, and the death the following year of a legendary local high school football coach, shot and killed by a former player later diagnosed with mental illness.

"Over the years the routing has intentionally been into communities that have had hard times," Offenburger said.

To ensure Greenfield can handle the crowd, volunteers from other communities along the route will travel there on the day of the ride to lend a hand, said Anne Lawrie, director of the cycling division of Ventures Endurance, the subsidiary of Register parent Gannett Co. that manages the ride.

Seeking volunteers outside the community also helps avoid putting more stress on local volunteer groups, School said. She said she doesn’t know the exact number of volunteers needed at this time, but those interested can visit the Greenfield RAGBRAI 2024 Facebook page to fill out a volunteer form to help the day of the ride or to assist with cleanup efforts.

Greenfield won't be the only recently tornado-struck town RAGBRAI that riders will pass through on the 2024 ride. The same day, they're scheduled to camp in Winterset. On March 5, 2022, a tornado hit a neighborhood just south of that city and killed six people, including two children and their father.

Tornado sculpture made of bikes recalls tragic day in Day 4 RAGBRAI meeting town's history

Greenfield adjusts previous RAGBRAI plans after the May 21 tornado

Debris is scattered all around the hospital in Greenfield, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. Multiple residents were killed when a tornado struck the town Tuesday afternoon.
Debris is scattered all around the hospital in Greenfield, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. Multiple residents were killed when a tornado struck the town Tuesday afternoon.

Nodaway Valley High School, on Greenfield's northeast side, was being considered as the place where support vehicles would park. But the high school is being used as a Red Cross shelter and support post for victims, so parking will now be at the Adair County Fairgrounds.

Cleanup efforts will keep Greenfield busy up until RAGBRAI, in addition to the expected responsibilities that come with event planning, including securing portable bathrooms, putting up signs and finalizing a list of vendors for the day, School said.

Riders will be routed to see some of the impacted areas of Greenfield, in part to curb people from wandering on their own out of curiosity, she said. The committee will focus on cleaning those streets, ensuring there is no glass, nails or other debris that would affect riders and their bikes.

The focal point for activities will be Greenfield's scenic and largely undamaged downtown. Plans for entertainment there are changing, School said, and riders should anticipate meeting Greenfield community members and hearing their stories about the tornado.

More details regarding Greenfield's plans for RAGBRAI, including detailed bicycle and vehicle routes through the town, will be released soon, according to a news release.

Rebuilding Greenfield for a future RAGBRAI

Greenfield also hopes to benefit from the generosity of the riders. Bins will be placed around town to accept cash donations. There also may be a QR code for riders to donate via their phones.

That’s just two of “lots of opportunities” riders will find should they want to support Greenfield, School said.

In the next five, six years, she hopes Greenfield can once again be selected for RAGBRAI to celebrate the way the town had planned to this year.

"People could really see what they helped rebuild with their help and donations, and they could see the impact that it had, and how we were able to come back from all this," she said.

In addition to an opportunity for donations, the decision to keep Greenfield on RAGBRAI's route this year provides another opportunity already identified long before the tornado.

"We wanted people to come just because Greenfield really has a lot of beautiful things and great amenities," School said. "And it was the hope people come for RAGBRAI, hang out for an hour and be like, 'Hey, that was a cool little town. Why don't we go back and explore it?'"

Paris Barraza is a trending and general assignment reporter at the Des Moines Register. Reach her at pbarraza@registermedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.

Philip Joens covers retail and real estate for the Des Moines Register. He can be reached at 515-284-8184, pjoens@registermedia.com or on Twitter @Philip_Joens.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Tornado-ravaged Greenfield decides to remain on RAGBRAI 2024 route

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