By HPRS Race Director “Sherpa” John Lacroix
This is typically the busiest time of year for me as a race director. Now is the time when I earnestly go over every finite detail of every Human Potential race that takes place on United States Forest Service (USFS) lands. Even though many of our events have a multi-year commercial use permit already in hand, I still need to submit the most up to date operating plans, and emergency action plans, for each of these events. No detail can be left unmentioned, and each operating plan must work logically for the success of each event. It’s a lot of mental wrangling as I literally envision every location, mile, and detail of each race to concoct a logistical masterpiece.
This is the time of year when the real magic happens. I spend many long days pouring over the details of each event. Editing each event to improve efficiency, make it easier for runners and/or crews, or to even add that one section of trail that would make you swear at me a little louder by the end. Perhaps an aid station needs to go, or a new one needs to be added. In some cases, whole courses need to be redesigned due to new land permissions, or the inability to acquire a repeat permit from a particular land manager.
Each event’s operating plan is then submitted to the permitting ranger(s) in charge of overseeing recreation events within that district of the National Forest. At Human Potential, I work with 3 different ranger districts of the USFS here in Colorado, and potentially a district in the Ozarks of Arkansas. No two districts are the same, no two rangers are the same, no two relationships are the same. This is also the time of year when I continue to build my relationships with these land managers to ensure we’re in sync with the management of resources, and the privilegeof being able to host an event. It’s a lot of work. Those operating plans must be submitted by March 15thof the current year.
I know what you’re thinking, “And then you get a permit?” Nope! In most cases, I don’t have a permit in hand for an event until 1 or 2 weeks prior to the event actually happening. I know what you’re also now thinking, “So…. The races I’ve signed up for don’t even have a permit yet?!” Across our entire sport.. that is indeed the case. Many of the races you’ve signed up for in 2019 won’t have a permit in hand until very close to the day of. Yes, we open registration on the hope that everything will come through, or that our relationship with land managers is strong enough to ensure a permit is imminent.
Because the Forest Service is severely underfunded, and in turn understaffed. They do not have the funding or manpower to administer our permits in as timely a fashion as we’d all like. We’re also just oneof many user groups. Thanks to our current government shutdown, once the rangers get back to work, they now have an immense backlog of work to adhere to before they can even give attention to our events.. and believe me when I tell you that the “Bibbity Bobbity Boo 100k” is low on the totem pole of priorities for these rangers.
The original mapping of the Silverheels 100 (the course I wanted to run), sent runner’s over to Breckenridge and back in a giant loop of magnificent single-track trails. I got an OK from the South Park Ranger District to host our event, but I did not get the same OK from the White River Ranger District. WRRD has a moratorium on the permitting of new events. What does that mean? As they explained it to me then.. and still holds true 5 years later.. they don’t have the funding, or the staff, to administer any new permits. So basically, no rangers to come out on race day and check on our event. So Silverheels doesn’t go to Breckenridge, and we instead deal with Boreas Pass Road.
What is “Administering a permit?”
Most of us never see the work that takes place behind the scenes for a race to happen. There needs to be funding and a staff present to; accept my permit application (and my operating plan) and review it; submit the permit application for lead ranger approval; to sign and execute the permit; and then to come out on race day and check that the event is being conducted as stated in the permit. In the case of Silverheels, WRRD does not have the funding or staffing required to come out on race day and check all of our aid stations for compliance. So.. they have a moratorium on permitting new events.. also known as “no new permits.”
This isn’t the first time I have run into this issue and it won’t be the last. Over the last few years, it has been an immense struggle to get The Sangre de Cristo Ultras off the ground. The original mapping of the event had the start/finish in Salida, CO, and used some of the most awesome singletrack trails in Colorado on the Northern End of the Rainbow Trail. Guess what? Salida Ranger District has a moratorium on new permits. Why? Because they don’t have the funding or staff to even write, and send, us a bill…or collect the money.. after the event concludes. They’re already at capacity with current mountain bike and run events within their district. The Sangre de Cristo Ultras is now held on the Southern End of the Rainbow Trail and in a district that can handle having the event. This is however a very delicate relationship. They all are.
Yes.. directing a race is more than designing the most awesome run of your life to share with your friends. It’s more than just handing a ranger a map and asking for permission, then heading out to hang colored ribbons. It’s somuch more. It is sifting through the convoluted world of bureaucracy. It’s exhausting work for just one race, never mind for nine. And the job is getting even harder.
The USFS is so understaffed and underfunded that they can no longer
afford to maintain the trails we use for our events.
The Indian Creek Fifties is entering its’ 6thyear in Sedalia, CO. I work with 5 different land managers to get that race to happen, one of which is the United States Forest Service South Platte Ranger District (and if any of those 5 say “no,” the race doesn’t happen). I’ve built a wonderful working relationship with the USFS ranger of this district over the years. Because of shifts and cuts in funding, my “usual ranger” is now moving on to another position within the Forest Service. Moving forward, I will have a new ranger for Indian Creek for the first time since it started (Nov 2014). As an RD, I now need to meet a new ranger, learn their vision and concerns, build a new relationship, and pray we can continue to make it work together.
Because of the new congressional budget, that further slashes USFS maintenance budgets, this district is now further underfunded, and potentially understaffed, as are many others. They no longer have the funding and manpower necessary to do the vital trail work needed for our events to continue on these public lands. How are they handling this new reality of forest management? One way is that it is now a condition of our permit to conduct at least one trail work day a year, within their district, in order to obtain our permit for the Indian Creek Fifties. The onus is on us.
Explosive Population Affects Us Too
It has become a growing reality in Colorado’s Front Range that race groups such as ours are no longer viewed as a compliment to the use of public lands. We actually hinder the management of those lands. Take Jefferson County for instance. When HPRS started in 2014, JeffCo averaged 3.5 Million visitors to their parks every year. With the population explosion in the Front Range, and everyone wanting to play in our beautiful mountains, use has risen to near 7 million visitors a year in that 5-year span. It is the priority of these land managers to manage the resource for all users, and not just our one singular user group. This extends to all other land management agencies on the county, state, and federal level.
It has become evident that some land managers are attempting to distance themselves from allowing competitive events on their lands due to an increase in overall use, lack of funding, or a lack in staffing. The approach that is being taken is to mandate mandatory trail work that they may not be able to do, place races on probation for frivolous reasons, or revoking permits altogether. The danger with this is that land managers are effectively alienating whole user groups whom they rely on to conduct the trail work, and provide additional funding, they so desperately need. We’re all walking on a tight rope out there.
So where do we go from here?
Friends, trails don’t just magically appear. After they appear, they don’t magically take care of themselves. Every single event held on USFS land has had a environmental impact study conducted to determine the number of runners that can reasonably be had in that event in relation to the management plan of the resource. The more our trails are neglected, the lower the number of bodies allowed in the race will become until, ultimately, the race’s permit is denied. Repeat NEPA studies are often conducted after years of a race being held.
Imagine if Western States didn’t pour thousands of hours into trail work on the trails they use for their event. Western States as we know it would not exist. It’s also why Hardrock continues to give back by also doing trail work on the trails they use, and throughout the surrounding area. It’s also why a handful of 100-mile races in our country require 8-hours of volunteer trail work to gain entry into the event. Race directors are on the front lines of working with land managers to make our events happen and we clearly see the need for our group to give to the trails we wish to use. We need you to see it too..
Only the Silverheels 100 has an 8-hour volunteer requirement as part of entry at HPRS. Every year I receive a handful of complaint e-mails about how ridiculous some of you feel that is. By the trail work deadline for the 2018 Silverheels 100, 33% of the field had failed to complete the task. Some people even tried to get a registration refund because of their inability to do the work. Mind you, this work doesn’t have to be trail work, it can be volunteering at another ultra. Use of ANY trails for events like ours is a privilege and not a right. If we expect to continue to have the privilege of running ultras in these amazing places, then we must take on the responsibility of doing the work necessary to allow that to happen.
If the trails a race uses become so overgrown, or underutilized, that the forest service no longer identifies it as an official trail; or if that trail sinks into such disarray that a new NEPA study would determine that the trail is no longer suitable for a race… we don’t get to use that trail anymore. Then a race needs to have either a considerable reroute, or the race may no longer exist.
In 2018 Human Potential sat down with other user groups in the Front Range to form a coalition known as “Outside 285.” This group consisted of The Colorado Mountain Bike Association (COMBA), two other major mountain bike race organizers, Human Potential, and a Front Range Equestrian Group. We put our heads together to come up with a comprehensive plan for the trails of the “US Highway 285 corridor” (basically Indian Creek, and all of Jefferson County, up to Kenosha Pass). This plan was not only a 10-Year vision for trail connections that would afford someone the ability to run from Lair O’ Bair to Kenosha Pass while totally on single track, but it also included a plan for maintaining the current network of trails that exist.
As I said earlier, Human Potential is now required to conduct a volunteer trail work day in order to obtain a permit for the Indian Creek Fifties. Outside of HPRS, The North Fork Trail Races is also required for their permit as well, not to mention that they’ve had to find a new start/finish locale and reroute their entire course. It is my hope that in reading this, you can clearly see the need for our user group to get it together by giving back to trail construction and upkeep. We need to do more trail work so that our user group can be taken seriously when we actually decide to pull a seat up to the table. Your voice is nearly muted if you never pick up a shovel. You may not see it yet, but our ability to host organized ultrarunning events is not guaranteed, and we’ve got some work to do.
Us vs. The Bikes
As a whole, our group is nearly absent in the Front Range when it comes to trail stewardship. As a user group our voice is seldom heard as hardly anyone shows up to a public meeting talking about trail construction, use, or designation. Yet we’re one of the loudest to complain when a trail is given solely to the mountain bikers. Keep in mind that the mountain bikers are at every public meeting en masse, and they put in thousands of hours a year to volunteer trail workdays. COMBA organized just shy of 10,000 man-hours of trail work in 2018 alone. We’ve lost the right to complain, and frankly we need to earn the privilege to use our trails.
Recently a few trail runners took to social media to complain about recent work conducted by COMBA on Green Mountain’s (Lakewood) Rooney Valley Trail. The complaint included a link to an article written by our friends at Suffer Better. The complainers went on to complain about the work COMBA has completed on this trail saying that it is not runner friendly. The complainers went on to denounce the countless hours put in to the work by COMBA, going as far as saying the trail has been deigned solely for the enjoyment of mountain bikers. These complaints were nothing short of uneducated, short sighted, childish, and offensive. It’s a bad look for our user group when we do more complaining than we do working.
First.. I want to make it clear that all across this great nation of ours, we need to stop with the Trail Runners vs. Mountain Biker mentality. It’s not serving us well at all and ultimately makes our user group look ridiculous. Trail runners really need to wake up and understand that most mountain bikers also trail run. Before a trail is crafted, an extensive and exhaustive process is conducted which allows for you to come to the table and voice your opinions then. Complaining after the work is done is not only ineffective, but it actually shines a light on how behind the curve our group actually is. COMBA is not building trails specifically for their own personal use. Trails are created with a resource management lens FIRST (drainage, long term maintenance, etc), and while some features are created to ensure mountain bikers aren’t going over their handlebars or to give them a moment of extra joy, you have to seriously allow this user group the respect they deserve given the sheer amount of work they’re putting in. Simply put.. if you want the trail to cater to your needs, pick up a damn hoe and let’s get to work.
In 2019, Human Potential is dedicated to being a leader of trail work for the trail running user group in the Front Range. We have purchased our very own cache of tools to use on various trail work projects so that we no longer need to borrow from others. If you don’t see a date listed on our site for trail work that works for you, it is my hope that we can put our heads together and make a date that does. I have aligned HPRS in solidarity with COMBA. A comprehensive 10-year management plan for the Indian Creek area of trails that we use has been created, and the mountain bikers and equestrian groups have come together in cooperation to help manage this area for the underfunded and understaffed USFS. I also encourage you volunteer with any of our State Parks, or with Jefferson County Open Space, on any number of trail work projects. HPRS continues to adopt 11-miles of trail in Fairplay, and has had a voice in the improvement on the network of trails that already exist there.
Either we choose to put in the work to help manage the resources that we seek to use, or we’ll have chosen to lose the privilege to use them altogether.
For more information on how you can do trail work with HPRS, please CLICK HERE.