Are the trails too crowded? What do you think.

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This is an opinion piece – It is not meant to speak for all members of#TrailsRoc – Leave us a comment – let us know what you think – let’s start the discussion.

The Blog Symposium topic in September for TrailRunner Magazine brings up a conversation that we just spent considerable time here at #TrailsRoc discussing. The Rochester Area Trail and Ultra Runner connect group hosted by #TrailsRoc had this exact same conversation last week when a member posted the following question:
Question. Given the debacle for the mid-back packers at Leadville (aid stations running out of food and water) and recent overcrowding and course markings incidents locally… has trail running gotten too big for it’s own good?
We had every response from “absolutely not the sport needs to grow” to “absolutely there are too many people on the trails over crowding them and acting in a way that is not sustainable“. We also had people pointing out that trail running to them is not about racing – it’s more like a religion and they will do everything they can to avoid the big crowds and the heavily registered races because they turn to the trails to escape that exact environment.
A bevy of race directors also chimed in – One technique talked about is wave starting similar to corals at road races to open up the trails during the race – One technique is to cap races to ensure that trails don’t jam up and don’t suffer environmental damage – One even pointed out sometimes the solution is to not race and put everything in perspective.
The issue we never did get around to talking about though is what can our trails sustain? When we planned and executed the 0 SPF Trail 1/2 Marathon , we were asked to complete an environmental assessment for use of the Crescent Trail. We were also asked to come up with a number to cap our event at – 125 was the number they suggested for the trail – That is the number we went with. The trail association felt that too many runners would NOT be a good thing – They built and maintain the trail – We think we should trust that judgement.
When we decided to work with the town of Victor for Ready Set Glow – There was no cap given to us – and no assessment -The same for an event we are planning in the Monroe County Parks. I had to admit I was a bit surprised by this – For the 0 SPF we planned a pre race clean up day and a post race clean up to make certain the trails were better than when we found them.
No one is requiring us to do this so that means it is up to the Race Directors to make sure that:
1. Your runners have not left trash all over – GU packets – hydration leftovers – tissues – shirts – whatever it may be.
2. If the weather was poor (muddy) or you had too many runners, you have a plan in place to repair the damage. Did you track 200+ folks through shin deep mud making the trail potted and likely wider than when you got there? What was the plan to fix that asap?
3. Will you somehow in your race promote sustainability ? 0 SPF was a mandatory water carry race – We had fill stations – not water stations – No cups allowed = less garbage = more sustainability.
To get to the questions though we will break them down.
1. How should races adapt to limit entrants and prevent overcrowding on the trails – First realize this is a good problem to have – The boom in running has exploded and is now invading the trails – I can still run miles at a time and see no one, but racing is a different story  – At #TrailsRoc we have gone with a cap. We are a small homegrown, grassroots organization. It makes sense for a number of reasons for us. The biggest being we care about the trails and don’t want to see them ruined by overuse on one time events. Smaller races have less impact – We also like and have participated in wave starts which certainly helps the overcrowding and allows more people to experience certain races.
2. Have you run trail races that felt overcrowded? Rochester has an amazing trail running scene – The one and only downside to this is races get packed – Single track trails with big climbs, creek crossings, and tight turns do not lend themselves to racing with 300 people. What seems to happen is the fast runners get out ahead and race – The folks in the back settle in and push on through – Those mid packers – the ones who are always passing and being passed who have good days and then horrible days – They get stuck – Or they become the block. I can yell on your left all I want – but if there is no where for the runner in front of me to go – I am there waiting for a chance to pass. Passing off trail is not responsible – waiting is no fun – Rochester has run into this problem and we welcome open and valuable discussion to figure out how to solve it. Even MASSIVE marathons cap entries (Think Chicago – NYC) Why should trails that have an actual environmental impact not do the same?

3. Have you ever not been able to run a race because it filled up too quickly? – 0 SPF sold out months in advance this year – We had a waiting list all the way through the event with folks hoping to gain entry. Muddy Sneaker sold out early this year- Other races do not cap. We have been the folks sitting at the computer at midnight on UltraSignUp waiting to click “register” as soon as it opened. It can be stressful for sure – yet in terms of growth for the sport, perhaps a little supply and demand won’t hurt.

4. Have you directed a race yourself and debated how to keep it environmentally sustainable? Early on this became our number one concern with 0 SPF. How can we share the trails, and share the value while also running an event on them. #TrailsRoc tries to make every event and every race we host a learning experience – We tell the history of the trails, we talk about being sustainable – We advise folks to go right down the middle if it’s muddy and not around and explain why erosion on a trail is a bad thing. We teach these topics in our weekly runs and we educate runners about the trails. We went with no cups, and biodegradable trail markings. We host trail days for every event before and after. So in essence we do everything we can to be sustainable, runners can help us by not dropping garbage, but we have done some great work at limiting the mess.

5. Which is better—lotteries or first-come-first-serve … or is there another way? We chose a first com first serve approach – It creates a bit of demand and it really helps spread the word for your event. Lotteries are tough to manage and add a step for both runners and organizers – They become complex, and from taking part in Twitter and Facebook they seem to build anxiety and create anger – Neither are feelings we want to create as trail lovers. One unique aspect that we held on to for our race was that each board member was allowed to let in 1 runner each past the sell out date. This gave us the ability to think about 6 people who wanted in but did not get in. It worked really well for us – We do not make this public knowledge but it works.

We need to start to have open discussions – I think it is obvious the trails are not too crowded – I just ran last night for miles and saw no one – literally no one. But the races crowd are trails. Let’s start to talk – Let’s start to answer the questions above from your opinion – Be civil, and let’s figure this out.