By MIKE FAHER and MATT BODENSCHATZ
Thunder in the Valley crowds will peak today, with some of the rally's signature events scheduled amid a full lineup of activities.
The eighth annual motorcycle parade is scheduled to begin at noon in downtown Johnstown.
Bikers can line up at 11 a.m. at the former Reliant Energy parking lots off Broad Street, while participants who are walking should gather at Point Stadium.
A quieter, gentler event starts at 10 a.m. in Central Park. The "biker baby" contest features youngsters decked out in cycling fashions.
And the ever-popular Blues Brothers act, along with a group of Motown impersonators, have two shows lined up: 2 p.m. at Johnstown's train station stage and 6 p.m. at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
Shuttle helps lighten traffic
While downtown traffic is moving slowly, Thunder organizers say introducing a shuttle service has helped alleviate congestion.
Every half-hour or so, the free shuttle picks up festival attendees at Greater Johnstown High School on Central Avenue and drops them off at Central Park. Buses will run from 1 p.m. to midnight today and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
"People are taking advantage of it, and that's terrific," said Lisa Dailey, Greater Johnstown-Cambria County Convention and Visitors Bureau director.
"This is the first year for it, so we'll learn as much as we can."
Also, officials have started a free "Thunder trolley loop" around event sites downtown.
Locals' passion impresses visitors
More than a few visitors have said they are impressed by a strong community spirit underlying Thunder in the Valley.
While many out-of-town bikers and vendors have roared in for the rally, Vinni Daniels of Rochester, N.Y., said it seems as if many locals are involved.
"Thunder is a different experience than most motorcycle rallies because people in Johnstown want something to rally around," Daniels said.
"Locals seem to love it more than the bikers do."
Doing the dirty work
It takes some planning and manpower to clean up after 150,000 people.
But even as Thunder in the Valley has grown, organizers say they have learned to stay on top of trash disposal.
"Now we know what we're up against, and we know what we're dealing with," said Karen Soliday, a visitors bureau staff member. The city's Public Works Department assists.
But the visitors bureau has hired crews who scour streets and parking lots for litter. Workers also cart off trash from hundreds of vendors. A contractor picks up that mess and deposits it in trash containers from Waste Management Inc.
"We get the largest Dumpsters that they have, and we get five of them," Soliday said, adding that event organizers have highest praise for their unsung garbage collectors.
"It's really not something that people think about," she said. "But if we did not address that situation, it certainly would become evident in a hurry."
By MIKE FAHER and MATT BODENSCHATZ
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