SALISBURY, Md. - Sea Gull Century returns to Maryland's Eastern Shore for its 31st year in Salisbury. Thousands of riders and their families are in town Friday to kick off the tradition on Salisbury University's campus.

Event organizers call the ride Wicomico County's largest one-day tourism event. The university estimates the event's annual economic impact on the Lower Shore is $4.5 million. Last year, the university says each visitor spent about $500 and 70% of the riders stayed locally.

Proceeds from the century support programs on campus and in the greater area. Salisbury city council president Jack Heath said Salisbury is growing, and events as large as the Sea Gull Century help bring people to town long after the ride has finished. 

"I think that benefits us because the more we can expose Salisbury as a place to come and have a destination as opposed to a pass through, we're a lot better off," Heath said.

The ride spans three counties: Wicomico, Somerset and Worcester. The cyclists will be participating in one of two rides. Some may be riding for 100 miles out to Assateague while others complete a 65 mile ride through Princess Anne. Event organizers expect nearly five thousand riders to be out on the road Saturday.

Event coordinator Jen Humphrey says it's a ride, not a race.

"We encourage them to go to the rest stops, fuel up, you know socialize with the people there and we call them rest stops because we want them to stop," Humphrey said. "We have entertainment there."

Humphrey said the ride shows off the Eastern Shore to cyclists who are coming from 36 states.

"We have one individual that's in the military and he's going to be coming over from where he's stationed so people from all over, coming to the Eastern Shore and just seeing our gem," Humphrey said.

Some say they look forward to riding on the open land.

"Just the freedom of it," Peter Petesch of Rockville, Md. said. "The sight seeing. We ride in Europe too, we ride in France and it's just a wonderful way see a country or a part of country, including this part."

And for others, they say they can't wait to cross the finish line.

"Thinking about it now, I could almost cry," Stephanie Davis said. "I'm gonna be exhilarated. I'm going to be so grateful and thankful and so happy."

With so many bicyclists and drivers sharing the road this weekend, police agencies are making sure everyone is safe this weekend. Officers from the school, city, county and state will be patrolling the routes and will be stationed at all major intersections. Police say they expect the biggest rush of riders between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. and again between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. They're advising drivers to avoid areas like Route 50 and Route 611.

"There's gonna be a main body of bikes but there will also be some trickling through. So any time you see several bikes, just try to avoid those roadways or at least give them as much space as you can," Lt. Dave Dalfanso said.

In-person registration ends Friday night at 8 p.m. The first wave of bicyclists roll out on Saturday at 7 a.m. For more information on the ride as well as route maps, visit Sea Gull Century