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Hartford: It's A Happening Place

Bicycle Tour, Gospel Fest And More Make For An Unusually Busy Day

By JIM FARRELL, Courant Staff Writer

September 09, 2007

With about 1,250 bicyclists descending on Bushnell Park Saturday morning, traffic was disrupted enough to delay the start of a gospel festival in the park by about an hour.

But Carolyn Brooks, coordinator of the Lift Every Voice and Sing event, wasn't especially upset.

"We're all serving the same people," Brooks said shortly after noon from her perch on the performance pavilion beneath the state Capitol. "The park should be this full more often - it would make it better for the city."

With a health fair and grandparents' day festivities also bringing people to the park, and many downtown cultural venues offering free activities as part of yet another initiative, Saturday was an unusually busy day in Hartford.

"We didn't expect this many cyclists to hang around this long," said Kevin Sullivan, who helped run the bike tour. "I think it's because of the buzz in the park."

Sponsored by the Central Connecticut Bicycle Alliance advocacy group, the tour was billed as "an anti-sprawl, pro-fun, pro-sustainable city, anti-pollution, anti-couch potato, pro-bicycle, pro-pedestrian event."

Participants chose between 10-mile and 25-mile rides, or shorter walking tours.

"It's so different, what you see from a bike compared to what you see through a car window," said Emily Rivera, during a quick stop in front of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House on Forest Street.

She had planned to ride 10 miles, but said her daughter, 12-year-old Natalie Velez, was having so much fun that they decided to go the full distance.

"I've lived in Hartford my whole life - 27 years - but there were things I saw that I never knew were here," Rivera said, adding that she was especially impressed with the area around Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Peter McHugh, who was among about 15 employees from ESPN who rode, also found the tour worthwhile.

"I saw a lot of different areas of Hartford that I never knew were here," said McHugh, who pedaled from his Wethersfield home 7 miles away, and then did the 25-mile tour.

He said a few of his friends from work rode in from Bristol, which is 18 miles away, meaning they cycled more than 60 miles Saturday under the warm, sunny sky.

The grandparents' day festival, which was set up near the Bushnell Park carousel, featured a variety of family friendly options, including games and arts and crafts booths.

Organizer Elby Gonzalez-Schwapp said she learned only a couple of weeks ago that the bike tour was scheduled for the same day, but was not concerned.

"The more the merrier," she said.

Mearise Parker, a 14-year-old freshman at Windsor High School, also was pleased by the confluence of events, because he was selected to sing the national anthem preceding the bike tour and - three hours later - the gospel festival.

Was he nervous?

"A little," he said, although less so for his second performance.

"Once he gets the first note out, he's fine," said dad Morgan Parker, who added that Mearise and siblings Irisha, 17, Katrina, 11, and Malik, 9, often perform together.

Away from the park, more than a dozen venues offered programs and tours as part of Open House Hartford, which was presented by the Greater Hartford Arts Council and continues today.

"I'm amazed," said Harry Van Der Hulst, of West Hartford, while children Alexandra, 7, Russell, 4, and Serena, 16 months, were watching an "Arabian Adventure" puppet show at Hartford Public Library.

They started the day at Asylum Hill Congregational Church, where the Connecticut Opera presented "Little Red Riding Hood," and were thinking about heading next to the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, which was offering children a chance to experiment with a variety of instruments at Hartford Children's Theatre on Farmington Avenue.

"These events give you an opportunity to see sights you might not see," he said.

Mike Schenk of West Simsbury, was with children Ellen, 9, and Daniel, 7. They made the orchestra's "petting zoo" their first stop and next went to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.

Inside, a curator was explaining to a group of about 30 that Andy Warhol's painting of Jackie Onassis was a sign of cultural commercialization.

Outside, Schenk watched as his kids made chalk drawings.

"This is a great thing to get people downtown, and it helps that everything is free," he said. "You can get a sense of what you like, and then come back sometime."

Open House Hartford continues today with free events at a variety of cultural venues. For information visit www.letsgoarts.org.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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