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Habitat 500 riders breeze through Itasca on countryside ride

Habitat 500 riders come off the Paul Bunyan Trail near Lake Garfield Thursday morning. The group was headed to Pine River. They stopped for nutrition at Pine Beach Resort on Lake Garfield. The event's goal was to raise $300,000 for Habitat for Humanity. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

A bevy of bicyclists rode through the region this week raising funds for Habitat for Humanity, including through the closed Itasca State Park.

Local authorities gave special permission for the Habitat 500 Bike Riders, all 125 cyclists, to tour the park, which had been part of the planned route for more than a year.

The 500-mile bike ride also stopped at Lake Garfield's Pine Beach Resort Thursday morning for nourishment.

"They kinda had their hearts set on the Headwaters," said volunteer Sara Thompson of Virginia.

Each rider pledges a minimum of $900 toward the Habitat for Humanity project of their choice, but most raise three times that.

This is the 19th year of the ride, which also celebrated the 1900th home built in Minnesota.

Some riders stopped in Bemidji Wednesday to help build a Habitat for Humanity house there. It is a "women-built" home, primarily constructed with female labor, Thompson said. The Irvine Avenue Women Build house was dedicated Wednesday.

Most of the cyclists are from Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa. Last year's ride had a fundraising goal of $300,000.

Riders came up with $330,000.

They ride 70-100 miles a day to get the 500 miles wedged in a seven-day period. Cyclists dined on fruits, peanut butter and energy bars.

A small platoon of volunteers accompanies the group, watching them in traffic, helping them at rest stops, preparing food and cheering them on.