The future of trail races with the bear epidemic

Every summer, runners and outdoor sport activists have several main events to look forward to, including the Crow Pass Crossing that takes place in mid to late July.

The 22.5 mile trail races spans from Girdwood all the way to the Eagle River Nature Center. Both locations, as well as in between, have been extremely prevalent locations for bear attacks in the last month.

In mid-June, 16-year-old Patrick Cooper was the first victim of the string of bear attacks. On his way to finishing a mountain race, Bird Ridge, Cooper was stalked and involved in the fatal mauling by a black bear.

Barely 24 hours later, Erin Johnson was working in interior Alaska when she and her colleague were stalked and attacked by another black bear. Johnson was the only one to lose her life.

After the initial two maulings, there haven’t been anymore fatal attacks, but a string of nearly half a dozen other incidents led UAA and Associate Athletic Director and race director Michael Friess to postpone the seasonal race.

“The safety of runners and preserving the awesome beauty of the Crow Pass trail will continue to be our priorities in organizing this event… This one-year pause will help ensure we can add the resources necessary to respond swiftly to incidents on the trail,” Friess said.

Due to the popularity and recognition the event normally gets, the suspension of the race is leaving others to question the safety and responsiveness of other trail races this summer.

A first event, the SUP n RUN hosted by Alaska Wilderness SUP is set to take place for the second annual event in Kincaid Park, taking place on July 23.

With nearly 500 people interested in the event, there are four options to chose from, three of them allowing participants to run in the woods. As the race incorporates paddle boarding, the first option takes place exclusively in the water with a two-mile paddle board race.

The other three options include a one-mile paddle followed by a four-mile trail run, as well as two other shorter events, a half-mile costume race or a half-mile PUP race allowing participants to bring their dogs.

While running with a dog and crowds might make the areas more safe, there are always risks involved with living in bear country. However, there are many things people can do to stay safe.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is heavily involved in this years recent bear uproar, in order to keep events like the SUP n RUN available, spokesman Ken Marsh explained bear activity.

“If bears come into town and they’re not rewarded, they’re not likely to be sticking around, there’s no reason for them to go through [the city] if there’s no reward,” he said.

A second prominent event taking place this summer is the Alaska Distance Classic hosted by Skinny Raven Sports on August 5. The event features a 5K and a 10K race, both taking place on trails near UAA and APU campuses, both prevalent locations for bear sightings.

For events such as that and the SUP n RUN, these events take place in heavily trafficked areas, but that doesn’t mean they are safe. As Marsh explained, bears will be more likely to come to these areas if there is trash or food they can get into, without that they will not be interested.

Anchorage police have been doing all that is possible in order to keep popular areas, as well as areas with upcoming events, clear of litter and debris.

The Moose Nugget Triathlon is set to take place on August 13. The Olympic distance event is hosted by the Alaska Triathlon Club placing the events along the coastal trail and in Kincaid, both locations that have frequent bear sightings.

For all outdoor events, or individual outdoor events or exercise, locals stress the importance of staying prepared.

Sara Oumchiche, a UAA student and outdoors enthusiast, explained that although the recent attacks have made her more hesitant to participate in events such as the Moose Nugget Triathlon. Knowing how to prepare makes her feel better.

“Everyone knows it’s always important to prepare adequately when going outdoors, for me that means wearing bear bells and carrying bear spray, for others that means even bringing a gun,” Oumchiche said.

In addition to preparing individually, Oumchiche feels comfortable with the way officials have been handling preparation for the races.

“I think with all the recent events, it would be crazy if race and event officials didn’t go the extra mile to make the participants feel safe. Even the local police have been stepping up their game in town to dissuade bears from wandering around,” Oumchiche said.

Despite Crow Pass Crossing being cancelled, other local — and smaller events — have had more time and insight to prepare to make the races as safe as the can. For more information on bear safety visit Alaska Department of Fish and Game at www.adfg.alaska.gov.