Trail Running Events on the Pacific Crest Trail

“The impact of trail races and trail racers on our nation’s trails. Issues related to permits, perception, and preservation.”

By Candice Burt – Race Director at Destination Trail and Athlete with Altra Running Team, Ultimate Direction, and Vfuel Endurance Gel. You can contact Candice at runcandicerun@gmail.com.

Trail running events are a core part of the trail running experience. There is something unique about being a trail runner that makes us want to come together and share the experience. When I began hearing about permitting issues race directors were having on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2011, I paid attention as the PCT is a 2,650 mile long trail that spans three states (California, Oregon and Washington) from Mexico to Canada. Permitting issues on the PCT were sure to affect many established trail running events as well as new ones and could set a precedent for all National Scenic Trails. A few well known trail running events that run on the PCT: Western States 100, Waldo 100k, Gorge Waterfalls 100k/50k, Angeles Crest 100, Cascade Crest 100, Tahoe 200, San Diego 100, and Pine to Palm 100, to name a few.

The Pacific Crest Trail is part of a larger development of National Scenic Trails, that have been created, “To provide for the ever-increasing outdoor recreation needs of an expanding population and in order to promote the preservation of, public access to, travel within, and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas and historic resources of the Nation, trails should be established (i) primarily, near the urban areas of the Nation, and (ii) secondarily, within scenic areas and along historic travel routes of the Nation which are often more remotely located.” (Source: NPS.gov).  The PCT is one of many National Scenic Trails in the United States, a list that includes the Arizona Trail, Oregon National Historic Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail, to name a few. Scenic trails include National Forests and Wilderness Areas, managed by the US Forest Service.

The problems with permitting events on the PCT began with the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA), an organization created to “preserve and promote the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail as a world-class experience for hikers and equestrians.” Therein lies the issue: the PCTA promotes the 2,650 mile long trail for a very select and small group of users. In fact, the PCTA has already successfully banned other legal non-motorized trail users, specifically mountain bikes from the entire trail in 1987. Although my experience as a race director confirmed the PCTA’s agenda since at least 2011, the PCTA finally came out publicly with their anti-trail running event agenda this March 2015 after we started a petition to “Continue to Allow Trail Running Events on the PCT”. The PCTA stated on their website that “organized trail races with hundreds of participants cannot help but disturb the tranquil backcountry experiences sought by individuals and families out for a run, hike or horseback ride on the Pacific Crest Trail.” With that, the PCTA Executive Director Liz Bergeron said that the “PCTA does not support adding new race events or expanding the size of current events. PCTA will continue to work with land managers and our partners to protect the trail experience.” (Source: pcta.org)

Herein lies the problem: The PCTA is a special interest group for hikers and equestrians that is lobbying for these two user groups and at the same time receiving federal funds of more than $1 million a year to promote a mission that excludes other non-motorized trail users. The Forest Service already goes through exhaustive efforts to review and permit trail running events. As a race director I know how hard it is to get a permit, you must have plans for sanitation, clean up, medical, and every step of the way consider how your event affects other trail users. Why do we need another organization to try to take over the job of the United States Forest Service? The permitting process will never allow events to go through wilderness areas, they are protected by congress and the permitting process with the USFS would never allow it. Most of the Pacific Crest Trail is on National Forests, not wilderness. As such, it’s designated as recreational land.

Trail running events give a lot to the communities they affect and the trails that they use. Events bring money into communities as runners eat, sleep, and recreate before, during, and after the event. Many trail races already require their participants to do trail work. In addition it is not unusual for events to organize trail work parties on the trails and donate money to organizations that maintain the trail. For my races, the Tahoe 200 and the Bigfoot 200, we require participants complete 8 hours of trail work. We donate money from entry fees to the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, Washington Trails Association and the Pacific Crest Trail Association, groups that work on the trails we use. We are also working to obtain a permit to do trail work on more than 20 miles of trails that have been unmaintained for more than a year. It is my experience that trail running events are an integral part of trail preservation.

It’s incredibly important that we educate the PCTA and the US Forest Service about how trail running events benefit the trails and the communities that the trails run through, how events have a positive environmental impact, and the recreational opportunities that they provide. If we do not speak up, we could not just lose the opportunity to run new events on the PCT and other National Scenic Trails, we could lose some of our most cherished and historic trail running events that already run on the PCT. This issue and how it plays out in the coming weeks and months could affect all National Scenic Trails and legislation relating to their use.

A few things you can do to support trail running events on the PCT, and other National Scenic Trails in the United States:

1. You can read and sign our petition.
2. Call & Email your local Forest Service District and tell them why and how you support trail running events
3. Create a local trail running advocacy group
4. Contact me at: runcandicerun@gmail.com for other ways to get involved and share your concerns

From your friends at the American Trail Running Association: Please let us know (email: nanohobbs@gmail.com), if you would like to get involved with trail running advocacy on the national level. Feel free to share stories from your local, or regional areas related to the staging of trail races and what you have done to build and solidify positive relationships with the various stakeholders in your communities. Information sharing is key to helping build our trail runner network. Together we can make a positive impact.

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