It's the most grueling foot race in the world, one that’s on the bucket list of thousands of runners around the world.
But the Badwater 135, a sweat-soaked endurance race that runs through the hottest place in the world in the middle of the summer, will be taking a detour in 2014 after Death Valley National Park placed a moratorium on cycling and running competitions there until it can determine how safe they are.
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. The study should be done by next spring, and such events could start being scheduled again after Oct. 1, Death Valley spokeswoman Cheryl Chipman said this week.
“We want to make it clear, we’re not canceling or banning any events,” Chipman told The Associated Press. “At the moment, we’re just not taking any more applications for them until we finish our safety evaluation.”
The Badwater race, held in July when the average high temperature in Death Valley is 116 degrees 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.
“There is a misconception that we’re canceling events or putting a ban on events. That’s not true,” Chipman 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 2014 Badwater race will be moved to a new route based in Lone Pine, Calif., and will finish at at Whitney Portal, said a statement on the website of AdventureCORPS, which stages Badwater and four other ultra-endurance events in the park.
Chris Kostman, founder of AdventureCORPS, said his group opposes the park’s plan and only learned about the decision to suspend future permits through the park’s website.
The ramifications of this review will have national implications, Kostman said.
“There are successful and popular cycling and running events held within national parks across America; they could all be in jeopardy now,” Kostman wrote in a prepared statement.
The 2013 Badwater event contributed more than $1 million to the park’s many “gateway” communities, Kostman said.
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.