Texas State Parks Welcome Participatory Sports Competitors

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AUSTIN – While most people visit Texas state parks to picnic, camp, fish, hike or just relax beneath a shade tree, there is a smaller, more physically-fit contingent that uses some of the state’s most scenic spots for more rigorous recreational pursuits.

Hardcore ultramarathoners who trod the trails each year at Huntsville State Park are perhaps the most extreme example. This year’s mega-endurance challenge on the first weekend in February not only attracted more than 500 runners, it also produced an American record.

The 19th annual Rocky Raccoon 100-Mile Trail Run was no stroll in the park for 30-year-old Ian Sharman of San Jose, Calif., who set a national record by completing the grueling endurance event – five 20-mile loops around Lake Raven — in just under 13 hours. His official time of 12:44:33 topped a field of 316 runners from around the country. A companion 50-mile run drew 196 starters.

On June 18, Huntsville State Park will host another competition for the relaxation-challenged.

The 2011 Texas State Championship Spring Adventure Race will feature a multisport team competition consisting of canoeing, a short trail run, a longer mountain bike race and a possible mystery event to be announced later. Exact distances and other particulars will be revealed during registration and packet pickup Saturday morning. For more race information, visit:  http://www.terrafirmaracing.com/view.asp?id=43

Huntsville State Park superintendent Chris Holm says the park hosts a number of competitions throughout the year sponsored by businesses and private organizations. It’s not unusual, he says, for the events to draw 500 to 700 competitors, all of whom pay the park entry fee, generating considerable income. There are other benefits to the park, as well.

“The winter events bring in people at a time of the year when we don’t have high visitation,” Holm explains. “It’s an extremely effective marketing tool for this park. It’s another way to get people into our park – not just participants but their families — to see what we have to offer, so they might become future customers.”

The Lone Star Runners Club will sponsor its annual Trail Run and Duathlon on April 23 at Palo Duro Canyon State Park near Amarillo, another state park favored by race directors and participants. Duathletes sandwich a nine-mile mountain bike ride between two-mile trail runs. Then, in a separate competition, trail runners take off on a nine-mile trail run. Both events start and finish in the Juniper Campground on the canyon floor. Then, all participants gather at noon to chow down on hamburgers and hot dogs. For more information, visit: www.lonestarrunnersclub.net.

For more than a quarter of a century, the dirt and gravel trails traversing picturesque Palo Duro Canyon have accommodated hundreds of runners competing in the Palo Duro Trail Run begun by Red Spicer. The Western States Qualifier attracts runners who chose to compete in the 20K, 50K or 50-mile event. To learn more, visit: http://www.palodurocanyon.com/pdcTrailRun2011.pdf

Mountain biking competitions are even more popular at Palo Duro Canyon State Park than running events such as the Palo Duro Marathon, according to acting park superintendent Nathan Londenberg. He says 24 Hours in the Canyon is a “huge event,” raising funds for the local Don and Sybil Harrington Cancer Center and Livestrong.

The largest field of competitors to use state park facilities, up to 15,000 bikers, turn out for the annual MS 150, a two-day, 150-mile bike race from Austin to Houston held each April. Some 15,000 competitors pedal the pine tree-lined road linking Bastrop and Buescher state parks on their trek between the two cities to raise money for The Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Though not really a competition per se, but more of a celebration of mountain biking in the Big Bend, the first-ever Chihuahuan Desert Dirt Fest was held recently in Lajitas. Some of the rides, including one along a route recently named by the International Mountain Biking Association as an Epic Ride, took place in Big Bend Ranch State Park. The swanky Lajitas Resort served as the staging location for family-friendly rides of different lengths and difficulty. For more information, visit: http://desertsportstx.com/mountain-bike-event/.

On March 27, competitors will go up against granite in the Enchanted Rock Extreme Duathlon at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in the Texas Hill Country.

The duathlon features a 5-mile run around the outer loop, then a 16-mile road-bike ride, culminating in a 1.5-mile spring up to the top of the giant rock mountain. For more, visit: http://www.redemptionrp.com/ERock2011.

Late October finds a different breed of competitor tackling Enchanted Rock in central Texas in probably the most unusual competition held in a Texas state park.

The 20th annual Granite Gripper at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area north of Fredericksburg will once again offer a variety of rope and bouldering competitions for men, women and youth of varying abilities. The fundraiser benefits the state natural area and the iconic granite batholith that gives the park its name. Visit: http://www.centraltexasclimbingcommittee.com/gripper.html

Triathletes who enjoy swimming, in addition to running and biking, can compete at Lake Tawakoni State Park near Dallas on April 17 in the first semi-annual Spring-Fall Sprint Triathlon Series sponsored by Big Earth Racing. Participants in what’s being billed as the “Biggest Little Sprint in Texas” will swim half a mile, bike 23.8 miles and run 3.1 (5K) miles.  A second triathlon is scheduled for Aug. 21.

During the two events, the state park will be closed to the general public. Participants and spectators must register online at: www.bigearthracing.com. For park information, call (903) 560-7123.

For those who don’t like to compete solo, grab a partner and come to Cedar Hill State Park near Dallas on Oct. 16 for the Columbia Muddy Buddy Dallas off-road competition, featuring a total course distance of from six to seven miles. Each partner will run and bike approximately three miles, one running while the other bikes. They will switch off in a transition/obstacle area. Each race team will have to conquer a mud pit before crossing the finish line together. For more information, visit:  http://www.trifind.com/re_33420/ColumbiaMuddyBuddyDallas.html.

The banks of the San Marcos River at Palmetto State Park near Gonzales are the perfect vantage point to witness the annual Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile marathon canoe race from Aquarena Springs in San Marcos to Seadrift. This year’s event will be held from June 11-15.

For a partial list of competitive events held at a Texas state park near you, visit: http://beta-www.tpwd.state.tx.us/calendar/competitions.