In a decision that could affect a number of endurance races that traverse Death Valley, the National Park Service has placed a moratorium on races that go through the area until NPS officials can determine how safe such events are, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Among the most famous: The Badwater 135, an ultramarathon that crosses the world’s hottest environment before finishing at more than 8,300 feet on the lower flanks of Mount Whitney in southern California’s Sierras.
The NPS says it will do a study on the issue which should be done by spring, and events could resume as early as Oct. 1, 2014, the AP reported.
“We want to make it clear, we’re not canceling or banning any events,” Death Valley National Park spokeswoman Cheryl Chipman told The AP. “At the moment, we’re just not taking any more applications for them until we finish our safety evaluation.”
What makes it odd: A lack of major problems associated with endurance races in the area, one organizer said.
Chris Kostman, whose AdventureCorps runs Badwater 135 and other events, told the AP that his organization has held 89 events since 1990 without serious issues crop up: No deaths, no serious crashes, and a smattering of ambulance transports during that time. Despite its rigors, Death Valley’s signature race has an 89-percent finish rate, he said. Entry is by invitation only, and competitors have to have at least three 100-milers under their belt to be considered.
But the NPS’s decision means that Kostman has had to reschedule or move a slate of 2014 competitions, he said.
Temperatures in Death Valley can reach 130 degrees, and the length of the race, plus its elevation gain (about 8,500 feet from its lowest point to its high-altitude finish) make it even more taxing.
Those reasons, as well as increasing popularity and numbers of competitors, make it time for the safety review, Chipman contends.
In the long-term, Badwater 135 could be back, and other races will continue elsewhere, the AP reports. But in the short-term, there won’t be a Badwater 135 next year.
So what do you think? Is this move due diligence on the part of NPS, or is it overreach? Let me know your thoughts.