Death Valley National Park suspended permits for running and cycling races to conduct a safety review, forcing the 135-mile (217-kilometer) annual Badwater Ultramarathon to find a new site.
Officials at the California park said there have been growing concerns about participants and visitors to the park during races, particularly due to increased car and bicycle traffic.
“We have monitored the events in recent years and there are safety concerns not just for the participants, but also for visitors to the park during these events,” park spokeswoman Cheryl Chipman said in a telephone interview.
Because of this, Chipman said park officials are reviewing the guidelines and criteria they use for such events. The review will be completed by the end of March, Chipman said.
“There is a misconception that we’re canceling events or putting a ban on events. That’s not true,” she said. “We are, at this point, postponing decisions on events. I don’t anticipate us canceling all events in the future. At the end of our review, we hope to have criteria in place that will allow us to permit events in the future.”
The Badwater race, held in July when the average high temperature in Death Valley is 116 Fahrenheit (47 Celsius), has been run since 1987. The course takes runners from Nevada’s Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level, to California’s Mount Whitney Portal at 8,300 feet.
The event is ranked No. 1 in the National Geographic Adventure’s toughest races, crosses over three mountain ranges along the way, and attracts as many as 100 runners from 25 countries, according to its website.
The 2014 Badwater race will be moved to a new route based in Lone Pine, California, AdventureCORPS, which stages it along with four other ultra-endurance events in the park, said in a statement on its website.
Chris Kostman, founder of AdventureCORPS, said his group opposed the park’s plan and only learned about the decision to suspend future permits through the park’s website.
AdventureCORPS said on its website that the group has hosted 89 events since 1990 with special permits from the park. The group has never been refused a permit and there have been no deaths, car crashes or citations issued during the events, Kostman said.
Each year, the park hosts about 12 races and receives permit applications for about 15-20 races, Chipman said.
“We decided we needed to slow down a little bit and develop some overall guidelines for not only former applicants but new applicants,” Chipman said.
Death Valley National Park is operated by the U.S.’s National Park Service and is the country’s largest national park at 5,219 square miles, about the same size as the state of Connecticut.
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Buteau in Atlanta at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at email@example.com