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Planning Events to Showcase Trails

Dan Craig is co-director of Grand Junction's annual Riverfront Run/Walk. The October event attracts over 200 participants. This article is based on an interview with Craig.

By Jane Wackerbarth
June 1997

As trails become more popular, trail events will begin to flourish as a safe and fun family way to spend time near home. Plan those events as opportunities to showcase your trail.

photo: A major running event on the Pinellas Trail in Florida
A major running event on the Pinellas Trail in Florida

Who Belongs on the Event Team?

"Our first two years, just the two of us ran the event on pure enthusiasm (and seat-of -the-pants luck). Then we got smart and put a team together."

1. Director or Co-directors

One director will be more visible, full of ideas, able to get people involved through community contacts, and good at generating enthusiasm, publicity and support. The other director must be detail oriented and able to deal with permits, park and trail regulations.

"My buddy's fiance has joined us now and she's great on the i-dotting and t-crossing! She takes care of a lot of headaches for us... Permits are required if you cross streets. One year, a bridge we got a permit to use was taken out for construction, 3 weeks before our event! Check to make sure everything is where you expect it to be!"

Co-directors need respect for each others differences. "My co-director and I are great friends 51 weeks of the year and tolerate each other event week." Event planners start working on the next year's events even before the current event, always striving for a better way, more efficiency, an easier time.

Directors are responsible for picking a safe date... what can it coincide with instead of compete with? "We had to compete with a National Alzheimer's Race that we hadn't anticipated. This year we are looking to collaborate with Grand Junction's October Fest." What other opportunities are out there? "We've been approached by the Kokopelli Marathon, a national race from Grand Junction to Moab. They'd like our race to be their prologue. We offer a strong hometown crowd and a pretty run along the river bank as opposed to starting out on the desert. Our runners would have a chance to run with real tough competition. It can mean corporate sponsorship and national publicity for us!"

2. Pay Attention to Moving People

Events on trails mean lots of people at one time who need to be organized in a herding, yet fun fashion. Signage, speaker systems, natural barriers, fences or construction webs serve valuable purposes in funnelling the crowds toward specific destinations and protecting natural areas.

Trailheads and many parks are not planned for large events. Your Event Director should review the people-moving plans with a recreation professional. Require participants to sign up ahead of time. It protects the trail, the event, and public attitude by addressing people-moving details well in advance. A recreation specialist can be helpful by providing a checklist of specific planning requirements for specific parks and trail corridors that lend themselves to trail events.

Transportation plans are critical. "We've had to bus people to our starting points and bring them back from the finish line. Next year, starting and finishing will be at the same area. The length of the race will be determined by what it takes to do that."

3. Registrar and/or Finish Line Monitor

Although it's best to recruit a separate person for these positions, the registrar can serve both in a pinch. Another detail-oriented person is needed for this team member. He or she should get copies of some good registration procedures and ask racers for their ideas on what make events flow. The more preparation, the nicer your event. Inexpensive entrance fees encourage early registration, which helps you plan water, refreshments, T-shirts, and need for volunteers. Early registration also helps you discover any competing events.

4. Volunteer Coordinator

This key person knows where and how volunteers can serve, how much time is required, and where they need to be. The handling and application of volunteers is your key to success. Be sure that each volunteer knows what he or she is expected to do. They will be needed in various capacities: registrars, parkers, "people-herders," course monitors, refreshment servers, finish liners, setter-uppers, and cleaner-uppers.

Volunteering can be prestigious. "Now we have 10 marshals from G.J.H.S. Last year at their awards ceremony students added that they had served as marshals. They have a good time, get a free T-shirt, refreshments and respect."

5. Refreshments and Relief

Plan to provide for coordination of both participants and volunteers. Seek donations from companies and organizations and let them staff their own booths with volunteers. If the public expects to buy refreshments there will be many details to handle. Import porta-potties, or have your event close to enough installed facilities.

6. Publicity

Get the word out early to make sure the public is aware and can choose to volunteer as well as participate. Local organizations can support you with volunteers and/or money. Trails belong to the community and therefore become community focal points and a source of collaborative spirit. The more a community is involved, the more enthusiasm is generated and the more successful an event becomes. "We have wonderful community-involved citizens in Grand Junction. The owner of one of our radio stations is also on the Riverfront Commission and he is always supportive of our efforts."

7. Artistic Coordinator

What is your theme this year? Are you introducing the trail to the public? Is this a community fun day? Are you raising matching funds for state trail grants? Are you supporting an art festival or creating one of your own? "Our emphasis is on having fun on the trail. In the past we have had balloon sculpting contests but we have learned that is environmentally irresponsible: balloons choke birds when they eat those pretty colored pieces. This year we switched to banners and people and groups competed for prizes." Who is in charge? "A high school art teacher enjoys that responsibility. Every year he creates a new design that we use for our T-shirts and for advertising.


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