Blessing of the bikes this weekend

BALDWIN — There is only one ORIGINAL.

There may be other blessings of motorcycles and their riders at the start of the riding season, but there is only one original Blessing of the Bikes - and it’s in Baldwin.

Since the first Blessing almost four decades ago, there have been many copies and knock-offs of this event throughout Michigan, but Lake County will always be the Blessing’s home turf.

The 2011 Blessing will be the 39th such event sponsored by the Para-Dice Motorcycle Club. Not only is it a great gathering for participants, the Blessing is big business for the local community - and a lot of fun for all involved.

A major source of spring revenue for Baldwin area businesses, the event brings in over $1 million to the local economy and the helps fill the coffers of non-profit organizations who set up in the airport each year.

Although the Blessing weekend ‘officially’ runs from May 13-15, a lot of folks make they way into the area much earlier. Most riders make a weekend of it, though some drive up Sunday morning. Those who visit the area will finds scores of vendors, pig roasts and parties to attend.

On Blessing weekend, bikes of all shapes and sizes fill Baldwin streets with riders and friends visiting area shops, restaurants and services. Bikes line Michigan Avenue filling every available parking spot.

“At some times, there will be bikes parked from the courthouse to the downtown area,” noted Lake County Sheriff Bob Hilts. “Not everyone actually heads out to the Blessing, so we could have double the number of bikes on hand then are reported at the airport.”

The Blessing is offered at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the airport, but the fun will really begin as bikers and their friends start arriving in town and throughout the surrounding communities beginning on Thursday evening and Friday afternoon.

Attendance is always affected by weather and planners hope for good things on Blessing weekend.

In Baldwin, the sheriff and his team are alrready getting ready for the big event.

“We don’t expect any surprises,” he said. “We have a great relationship with the organizers and visitors to this area during the Blessing.

“Our biggest problem is and probably will continue to be the flow of traffic.

“It gets very, very busy out on the roads of Lake County during Blessing weekend.”

The sheriff urges area residents to take a little more time while driving through the area, especially at intersections.

“We just want to get through the weekend without anyone getting hurt,” he pointed out.

Despite occasional logistical problems, local officials - including the sheriff - look forward to the Blessing.

“I just hope there will be really good weather,” noted Hilts.

“It’s been a little tough the last couple years, but by Sunday things generally pick up no matter what the weather may be.

“I’m looking forward to Blessing weekend.

“This is a good group of people who come to spend some quality time in our community.

“I look forward to seeing our local businesses have a successful and prosperous weekend kicking off a good summer recreational season.”

The sheriff noted his team will be out in full force, and auxiliaries will be patrolling the airport area and downtown streets as well.

“There’s a lot for our crew to do on Blessing weekend,” Hilts pointed out.

“There will be a few detours at different stages of the weekend.

“Our local folks are well aware of the situation. I just ask for a little patience, and a lot of goodwill.”

The Blessing is a major bike event and many visitors ride from as far away as the Upper Peninsula and other Great Lakes states.

Each year some drive all the way from California for the event and many riders have never missed one — or have not missed a “Blessing” since the first time they attended.