Horace Langford Jr. / Pahrump Valley Times - The National Park Service has put all races in Death Valley on hold for 2014 until a safety review is done. Here a park ranger addresses the Badwater Ultramarathon runners about safety last July.
Horace Langford Jr. / Pahrump Valley Times - Badwater Ultramarathon runners and support crews receiving information and direction before the race. According to AdventureCORPS, the race organizer, they have had 89 events with no fatalities.
Horace Langford Jr. / Pahrump Valley Times - Badwater Ultramarathon, runners and support crews receiving information and direction before the race.
As it stands now the most grueling race in the world will be taking a vacation from the hottest place on Earth.
AdventureCORPS announced this week that Death Valley National Park will be undergoing a safety review for most of 2014. The safety review will eliminate all cycling, running and other events inside Death Valley National Park.
At this point, it’s not clear what prompted the safety review by the National Park Service.
According to AdventureCORPS, the organization which runs several running and cycling events in the park during the year, which includes the famous Badwater running race, said Death Valley only sent them this communication:
“Effective immediately Death Valley National Park will temporarily discontinue issuance of running and bicycling event permits. Future event permits will not be considered until a thorough safety evaluation of this type of activity has been completed.”
The company said they only received this notice and no direct notification. The organization announced the following in their press release of Dec. 23 :
“There will be no sporting events of any kind held within Death Valley National Park in 2014. That includes the five events we (AdventureCORPS) host there (CORPScamp Death Valley; Death Valley Century, Ultra Century, and Double Century - spring and fall editions; Furnace Creek 508; and Badwater 135 Ultramarathon), as well as other cycling and running events such as the Ride to Cure Diabetes and Titus Canyon Marathon.”
AdventureCORPs, who is headed by Chris Kostman, said he has hosted 89 events without ever being refused a permit. Kostman questioned the need for a safety review, at least for its events. They went on to add, “There have been no deaths, no car crashes, no citations issued, and only a few evacuations by ambulance after literally millions of miles covered on foot or by bike by event participants.”
They disagree with the safety review and said it is not being “undertaken as a result of any significant number of complaints.”
Could this safety review come from another incident? Could all this be backlash from the death of an employee at Death Valley? The PVT reported on Oct. 23 that Chuck Caha, a maintenance worker and Pahrump resident, died while repairing a parking lot near Scotty’s Castle. Terry Baldino, Death Valley Natrional Park Service spokesman, told the PVT after the government shutdown that Caha had died the day before it.
The National Park Service did a review of safety after Caha passed away but maybe the national park is just playing it safe.
The National Park Service was unavailable for comment due to the holiday, but did issue a letter by Kathy Billings, Death Valley superintendent which underlines her concerns for safety: (The full letter dated Dec. 23 can be seen at http://www.nps.gov/deva/parkmgmt/upload/Public-Response-for-Sporting-Eve...)
“This past year, multiple near misses between event participants and park visitors in vehicles were observed. Park employees who monitor these events and respond to emergency situations caused by the events are exposed to unsafe situations due to extreme weather conditions and the location of events on high speed highways (55-65 mph speed limits). A safety assessment is being conducted on the effects of these types of events on visitors, participants and employee safety. The purpose of the safety assessment at Death Valley National Park is to identify any safety risks caused by these events and determine if there are actions that can be taken to mitigate the risks.”
AdventureCORPS is worried about other events at other national parks and said this in their press release, “During a recent meeting with DVNP staff, they stated ‘other Parks are watching us’ and ‘we might be setting a national precedent.’ Even a one-year ban on events is not a precedent that anybody who enjoys cycling or running events within national parks would support. There are successful and popular cycling and running events held within national parks across America; they could all be in jeopardy now.”
Regional General Manager for Xantera Parks and Resorts in Death Valley Richard Jones said his company is a major provider of lodging for the cycling and running events in Death Valley.
“There is really not a lot to comment on,” he said. “It’s a loss of income to our property. More importantly it’s a piece of the fabric of Death Valley. It appears these events have been stalled and it does not look like they will be here next year and it affects a lot of people up the line and into Lone Pine and some of the other gateway communities and it affects little people. It is really regrettable.”
When asked about the economic impact of losing these events, he said, “It is kind of impossible to say because of the trickle effect. On an overall basis it’s kind of hard to say because of the people they come with, the crew, and where they stop along the way. There are also the airlines and the travel, everything it takes to get to Death Valley. It is bigger than just our piece of the pie.”
He said at Furnace Creek the ranch has 224 rooms and the Inn has 66 rooms. During just the Badwater race in July, the rooms are full. He said other people are staying at the ranch during these events but it is harder to get a room during the Badwater Race. This race is one of the largest of the races with about 100 racers, support personnel and family coming from all over the world to test their skills against the heat of Death Valley.
Although Jones would not comment on the economic impact of the races to the area, AdventureCORPS did address this in their press release.
They said in their press release a survey of 2012 Badwater Ultramarathon runners revealed that each runner and crew spend a combined average of $9,379 to participate in the race and about 20 percent make additional trips to the Death Valley / Lone Pine region each year, for a total of over $1 million in annual economic impact from this one event.
“Nearly half of that money is spent in the region. The Inyo County Supervisors and Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce are extremely concerned about the economic impact of even a one-year ban on sporting events. Hotels, restaurants, gas stations, gift shops, and other businesses will be directly impacted. A wider view of the ban would indicate a negative impact on car rentals, airlines, and service providers to the events such as Liberty Ambulance in Ridgecrest, Subway in Pahrump, radio and satellite phone rental providers, t-shirt screeners, bicycle jersey manufacturers, buckle and medal manufacturers, and more. The ripple effect will be enormous and reverberate across the country.”
Besides Badwater, Jones said there are 10-12 other running or cycling events that utilize the Furnace Creek facility. Of those, AdventureCORPS is host to five of those events.
When asked if this moratorium on athletic events in the park made sense to him, he replied, “I don’t want to editorialize. It’s a decision on the part of the superintendent and her team. They believe it is in the best interest of the public. We will let the chips fall where they may. It’s public lands but they are managed by the National Park Service. We understand and I believe that their intentions are honorable and best intentioned; however it impacts a lot of people. Those seemingly small decisions can impact a lot of people.”