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Gettysburg Battlefield Marathon Organizers Denied Permit


Is it appropriate to stage a marathon at a Civil War battlefield site, or is the hallowed setting the wrong place for runners and cheering? That question has surfaced this week as the organizers of the Gettysburg Battlefield Marathon say the National Park Service has denied their request for a permit to stage this year's race.

"We officially learned Monday the National Park Service will not be approving our permit application as submitted," race organizers Alex Hayes wrote on the marathon's Facebook page. "They have some concerns about the appropriateness of running a marathon on hallowed ground and supporters cheering at places designed for moments of solemn reflection.

"We have mixed feelings about this. We certainly respect the National Park Service’s views in 2018, but are frustrated because the park approached us in 2016 to organize the marathon," they added. "There is new leadership at the park. They have the right to disagree with their predecessors."

Gettysburg National Military Park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon said Thursday that the park did encourage the marathon for 2016 as part of the National Park Service's centennial celebration. While the race returned in 2017, she said park staff decided that the route that was being used was not appropriate for the race.

Concerns voiced by both park staff and Gettysburg visitors, said Ms. Lawhon, concerned "(T)he footprint of the event, so to speak, and the spectators. Water stations and where there were spectators cheering and clapping for hours on end. Those impacts on places, very meaningful places for park visitors” had become an issue.

A central part of the mission of the miliary park, she explained, is to provide visitors with an opportunity to reflect on the soldiers who fell at Gettysburg, and the consequences the battle had on the nation.

"It’s very hard to pair that with what was physically happening here during the marathon," said Ms. Lawhon.

While the marathon in its first two years utilized roads that in some cases literally maked lines of battle and went past "places like Little Round Top and other places where there were major battles," park officials did offer race organizers the use of other park roads that were not so closely aligned with actual battles for this year's race, she said.

“We’re trying to find a way to reduce some of the impacts. If the marathon can still happen or not, it’s up to the organizers," said Ms. Lawhon.

The question of an event's appropriateness in a national park setting is not a new one. Not too many years ago there was a dispute over whether a professional bike race could go through Colorado National Monument. While then-National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis denied that request, there was no opposition when a portion of a professional bike race in Utah went through a sliver of Bryce Canyon National Park, albeit on a state highway.

And for the Park Service centennial, the Tour of Utah bike race was allowed to pedal, not race, through Zion National Park, a move that drew concern from the National Parks Conservation Association.

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Other NPS units make this type of event work and are successful at it - why can't Gettsyburg?  Seems like a lot of people were inspired by the location of the event if the posts on the Facebook site are any indication.  Looks like Normany over in France even has a run.  

NPS giveth...the NPS taketh away. It looks like the NPS has taken the Superintendent's Compendium off the park's website which is the instrument used to allow this type of park use.  Perhaps when they issue a new compendium they can take public comment on this type of use?   However, there is no excuse for not having the current Superintendent's Compendium posted on the park website. 

I can understand both sides of this coin to some degree but if an agency can do this in other places like battlefields it seems lessons can be learned and shared to mitigate the concerns at Gettsyburg.  I hope the event can continue at some level in the future.   

Typical narrow mindedness and inconsistent decision making from park management. Enjoy the parks they way "we" think you should. Events like this have taken place for years at Gettysburg, at other battlefields and important military parks like Valley Forge, Chickamaugua, and Antietam. Although it clearly isn't the NPS, there is even a Marathon at the Normandy Battlefield as well. I am sure the park throughly reviewed the route prior to approving it in 2017.  It's scheduling seems to minimize visitor conflict. Did the park just recently discover the lines of battle?  What made that ok in past years and not ok now?  As far as I can tell, these events have generated zero issues and it brings people to the parks who might not otherwise go. Reading the comments on the event organizer's Facebook page shows how this event was meaningful and reflective for participants. "Pull the rug out"and inconsistent decisions drives the public crazy. Way to go Gettysburg, got any other wrong minded visitor groups you want to run off?   Relevancy, huh?

As a participant in 2017, the situation described in the article does not align with my experience.  

This was a very low footprint race.  Runners were respectful and I honestly don't remember seeing many spectators on the Battlefield.  Certainly, people not cheering and clapping for hours on end.  The exception would be at the start/finish which was located in an overflow lot for the Visitors Center.

The Route was on roads that are open to the public and used daily for running/walking/biking.

I certainly agree that the event should not create an environment which interferes with another's right to enjoy the Battlefield, but the event was scheduled during the Park's low season and, again, participants were very mindful of where we were.  Many of us chose the race specifically to run in solemn silence and ponder the events of the battle.

I would think that a better balance could be found: the course goes off of Park property into town at several places, maybe the water stops could be staged there and the Park/race could ask spectators to stick to this area as well.  This race was starting to bring visitors to the Battlefield and tourism dollars into the town that otherwise wouldn't be there.

Disappointed with this decision.

I hope the NPS works with this group and doesn't end it based on what appear to be the opinions of a few of the staff and only 2 years of races.  I am impressed by what some of the runners have said about being on the battlefield. and how inspiring it was to them to be on the site.   The event occured during a low visitation period for the park and it clealry attracted some interest and engaged a user group that continues to grow in numbers.    I have been to the park during the July observances and I would argue that the crowds during those NPS sponsored special events can be very impactful and inhibit reflection of the importance of the place. 

Good luck to the oranizers and as big fan of the national parks - I hope they give this another look.  I think it was cool that the NPS considered this a few years ago and gave it a go.  Shows a willingness to reach out to different visitor groups.  

Folks, don't neglect this sentence:

...park officials did offer race organizers the use of other park roads that were not so closely aligned with actual battles for this year's race...

Sounds like it's up to the organizers whether the race continues.

I ran the 2017 race and agree that there were no crowds cheering on the course.  Any other day you will find people walking, running, biking and riding horses on or near the battlefield.  These roads are open to the public.  The runners in no way disrespected the battlefield.  When runners run a race they are certainly quiet and reflective and respectful of the surrounding area.  I hope they will reconsider.  


Several thoughts.  First, these courses are certified and it takes a whole year or more to accomplish that.  The course used over the past 2 years was negotiated with the park and certified. Secondly, park management can kill an event and still look like good guys by offering an alternative that is nothing more than a poison pill, designed to dissuade to permittee from moving forward. I don't know what the alternative offered was but if was tucked away off the battlefield proper or on a logistically difficult route, I don't blame them from turning it down.

I suppose it's difficult to determine one way or the other without knowing the actual alternate routes.  

The course was also run in parts of the town and outlying areas that are not on Battlefield property.  If the planned Battlefield changes would necessitate changes to these areas, then the permit decision from those local authorities may be altered, or perhaps the ability of the race to co-exist safely with local traffic would be threatened.  Park Officials don't have to think about these things, but the race organizers do.

I do believe that the Park Officials are acting with the best intentions as trusted stewards of the Battlefield's mission and the public's experience of the Battlefield.  Still, I disagree with the assertion that the race was a distraction and/or counter to that mission.  The 2016 race had 137 finishers, and the 2017 race had 407 with the Half Marathon added in.  This compares with 3,000,000 visitors to the Battlefield annually.

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