COLUMBIA — After a four-year hiatus, one of the North Country’s most colorful traditions and potentially one of its new economic drivers — the Blessing of the Bikes — is returning next month, albeit to the other side of the road, to the former Our Lady of Grace Shrine.
Located just south of the Colebrook town line, the shrine, which was owned and operated by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate since 1922, was closed permanently on July 1, 2014, and the 30-acre parcel, which is on both sides of US Route 3, was put up for sale.
The east side of the shrine was filled with religious monuments, and, since 1976, it had also been the site of the annual Blessing of the Bikes, an event that brought thousands of riders to this tiny town on the Connecticut River.
While the eastern shrine property was sold to a local family, the western piece, which includes a church, dormitory, and workshops, was sold to the Great North Woods Center for the Arts.
Last week, Charlie Jordan, who is president of the center’s parent organization, the Great North Woods Committee for the Arts, announced that the Blessing of the Bikes was back thanks to a partnership with the Manchester Motorcycle Club.
Jordan said the Center for the Arts was “extremely honored” to work with the Manchester MC, which he noted is “one of the oldest continually operating motorcycle clubs in the country.”
The club, he continued, is coordinating the entire Blessing of the Bikes, which, in a departure from the past, will be held over three days — June 21 through 23 — not just one.
“Our club has been around since the late 1800s, starting with bicycles and transitioning over to motorcycles in the early 1900s,” said club vice president, Laura Cardinal, in a prepared statement from the Center for the Arts.
“We all enjoy the riders’ lifestyle and ride on two and three wheels throughout the country and New Hampshire,” she said, adding that the club over its history has worked to help homeless veterans, bullied children, and persons with serious medical conditions. They also bike to end opioid addiction, she said.
The club, which after 2014 continued a Blessing of the Bikes at the Mohawk River Valley Campground in Colebrook, said it was thrilled to have been approached by Jordan and the Center for the Arts to rekindle the event at the Our Lady of Grace Shrine.
Jordan, who is also editor of the weekly Colebrook Chronicle, said residents enjoyed the Blessing of the Bikes, both for what the vendors had to offer as well as for the chance to visit with riders.
All three groups, he said, should also be happy with the return of the Bikers’ Ball, a free, open-to-all concert by the band “Mosey Down” on June 22.