LOS ANGELES (AP) -- For 27 straight summers, all that stood between runners and completion of the Badwater Ultramarathon was 135 miles of asphalt, a 13,000-foot elevation gain and late July temperatures that soared above 120 degrees.
This summer, the race from the depths of Death Valley to the shoulders of Mt. Whitney has been moved, while the National Park Service conducts a safety review of the run and other athletic events, the Los Angeles Times reports ( http://lat.ms/1aguqWS ). Race organizers have reconfigured one of the marquee competitions in ultra-distance running and moved it to an alternate course through Owens Valley, dozens of miles west.
The move away from Death Valley National Park and the namesake Badwater Basin has stunned a close-knit family of runners and triggered complaints to the Park Service and Interior Department. Some accuse the government of overreach.
Shannon Farar-Griefer said the change would be tantamount to moving the Tour de France finish off the Champs-Elysees.
“It's a disaster,” said the five-time Badwater competitor. “This is the granddaddy, the premier event. And it's in one of the greatest places in the world _ a place to see where your body can go and where your mind can go.”
Inyo County officials and others who support the race say they don't object to the safety review of the course, which traditionally begins at the lowest point in the U.S., finishes on the slopes of the highest peak in the Lower 48 and has a field limited to 100 men and women.
Kathy Billings, superintendent of Death Valley, announced last year that the park would take applications only for events after Oct. 1, 2014, allowing time to complete the safety review. In a December letter, she said athletic events in recent years have posed safety risks and triggered “multiple near misses,” most notably with support vehicles connected to the races.
Billings declined to comment but Death Valley park spokeswoman Cheryl Chipman said multiple issues arise when athletes and their crews descend on the desolate park, which hosts 1 million visitors a year. The teams can slow access around the park and create traffic “havoc,” particularly when tourists stop to take photos.
“We don't want to wait until there is a serious accident,” Chipman said, “which is usually what propels these kinds of reviews to happen.”