Since my communication on August 27 regarding a potential cancellation of the Superior Fall Trail Race due to direct and indirect consequences of wildfire in our region, we have simultaneously been planning for a cancellation, while continuing to move forward with the coordination, packing and deployment of the race. During this period I have remained in close contact with the United States Forest Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Lake County Sheriff and EMS, Cook County Sheriff and EMS, Superior Hiking Trail Association, fire contractors and fire communications team members working the Greenwood Fire, have attended informational meetings and have been continually monitoring online information outlets. Having gathered information from all of these sources, having had hours of communication and correspondence with the entities listed above, and having made a very careful and detailed analysis of all of the information available, the determination has been made to move forward with the 30th Annual Superior Fall Trail Race 100MI, 50MI and 26.2M on September 10 & 11, 2021. Below are the key considerations that went into our decision making process:
• None of our permit holders / land managers including the USFS, MNDNR, Lake or Cook Counties have revoked our permits, or asked us to cancel the race. All have remained supportive of our event.
• Both Lake and Cook County emergency services have indicated to us that they are available, have the resources, and are ready to respond should there be any kind of medical or search and rescue incident associated with our event.
• The Superior Trail Race has its own dedicated communications (HAM Radio) team and medical volunteers. Communications team members are stationed at each of our thirteen aid stations and report back to Net Control which is located at the race finish. Roving medical volunteers will visit / bounce between each of our 13 checkpoints and we will have an M.D. stationed at our finish line.
• Generally positive and cautiously optimistic news came out of the Greenwood Fire community informational meeting held at Wolf Ridge ELC on Aug 26. Rain on Aug 27 & 28, and favorable conditions since, have allowed crews to gain some containment of the Greenwood fire, prompting even more encouraging news at the community informational meeting on Aug 31. Current containment is being reported at 37%.
• Significantly, portions of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area are reopening.
• After a closure of USFS and MNDNR backcountry campsites used by the Superior Hiking Trail, those campsites are being reopened in time for Labor Day weekend. The Superior Hiking Trail Association has announced that backpacking (overnight use) may resume on the trail but still urges diligence, caution and “know before you go” and “leave no trace” principles. Importantly, absolutely no campfires are allowed.
The decision to move forward was not made in a vacuum. In addition to communication and coordination with our partner / permitting agencies, I have been in continual communication with the Superior Trail Race Advisory Panel, and we were able to engage with some independent experts. Throughout this process I was very candid with our partner / permitting agencies, making it very clear that our approach has never been, and will never be, to push forward with our event at all costs – we want to make the right decisions for all stakeholders. Our decisions will always be based on the best facts and data that we can gather. At the same time, in light of their entry fees paid and their passion for and dedication to our event, I have a responsibility to our runners, that if we are permitted and we can safely execute the race (without creating an unsafe situation or putting an undue burden on others) then we should proceed. Additionally, the North Shore’s economy is driven by tourism, yet another reason that continuity of our event is not only important to us, but it is important to our North Shore community as a whole. Of course balancing all of this is the tricky part.
With all of this said, please know that we are not completely out of the woods. The situation is still just dynamic enough that things could change. We must all be ready to adapt if need be. Within the next couple of days I will be following up with a final email to runners prior to the race with some more specifics and any final updates. A few of those specifics will include, but are not limited to;
• Crew members and spectators will be prohibited from idling their vehicle engines at trailheads / aid stations (once you park, you must turn off your engine)
• Crew members and spectators will be asked not to smoke.
• There will be no fires at aid stations this year. There is still a burn ban in place / campfires are strictly prohibited.
• Significantly, the Finland Recreation Center, the mile 52 aid station for the 100 mile race, and the start headquarters of the 50 mile race, is no longer available to us. The Eastern Area Management Team for the Greenwood and Cook County / BWCA fires have taken over the entire site for a command center in order to accommodate about 80 staff and will be camping outside, around the building and near the trailhead. We will have an aid station nearby (it will be within a mile of the stated distance of the existing aid station), the normal aid station is at mile 51.2. That said, runners need to plan for this to be a ‘no crew access’ and ‘no pacer swap-out’ aid station. For those runners that rely heavily on crew or pacers this could pose a challenge in that the previous aid station (County Road 6) is at mile 43.5 and the next aid station (Sonju Lake Road) is at 58.7, BUT crew access is not (never is) allowed at Sonju Lake Road either. Crosby-Manitou is the next aid station after Sonju, which does allow crew access, that is at Mile 62.9. The point is, that you are going to need to have everything that you need with you (and/or make use of your Finland and Sonju drop bags) in order to go from 43.5 to 62.9 (19.4 miles) without crew. I know for most of you this will not be an issue (qualifying standards for the win), but I want you to be fully aware of the logistics. Additionally, if you are using a pacer starting at County Road 6 (43.5) you need to make sure that your pacer is capable of safely covering this distance with you, carrying what they need to take care of themselves. Finally, if you do have crew and pacers, it is your responsibility to share this information with them. If we have time we will update the documents on the website – but there may not be time to do so, thus it is very important that you get this info to your crew i.e. “There is no crew access at Finland, there is no crew access at Sonju either, I will see you at Crosby.”
• For the reasons above, the 50 mile start will be entirely outside (no check in and waiting inside of the Finland Rec Center like normal). Be prepared for inclement weather. Remember, it is dark at the start of the 50 and you will need a headlamp. There will still be toilets at the start.
• Smoke. We have had quite a few days in a row now with no smoke on the shore, that said this can change quickly. I do not foresee cancelling for smoke, each runner should participate based on their own comfort level and consider any pre-existing conditions that would make them especially sensitive to wildfire smoke.
I will close by reiterating what I said in my last correspondence. I love you all and am grateful for you. Trail people are incredible people, and it is an honor to serve you. These problems, whether or not we can hold or run a race, all fall under the category of first-world problems, we are lucky to get to do any of this. That said, it is not lost on me how important our running is, and the inner and outer journeys it facilitates and how it fortifies our physical, mental and spiritual health. There is great power in what we come together to do, and who we are on the other side of it. When you are on the trail next week, I ask that you think about how you can contribute to a world that is in so much turmoil right now (global health, social justice, climate change / extreme weather events, national politics and geo-politics) – I will do the same.
Please be on the lookout for a final email from me in the coming days with some last minute updates prior to the race – as always, our website is your best resource for all things Superior. I hope to see you all on the startline(s) of our races next weekend – where I think it will be OK for us to celebrate a little bit.