Posted by Justin Rice February 2, 2012 01:14 PM
The Salem City Council is currently searching for a way to regulate the number of road races that hit town each year now that the 8-square-mile city has gone from only a handful of races each year to about 17 in 2011.
“All I want is some sort of master calendar that tracks the road races … because right now Parks and Rec doesn’t have a lot of oversight unless it starts and ends in a park,” Ward 1 City Councilor Robert McCarthy said during a telephone interview this morning.
The Council, which recently put the approval of two races on hold, will hold a hearing on the issue in the next few weeks, McCarthy said.
McCarthy suggested it might be a good idea to make the Parks and Recreation director a point person for road races since race directors currently deal with the Police Department as well.
“People call [to schedule races] and it isn’t a discussion about where they best fit in, is this weekend open?” McCarthy said. “They promote health, wellness and well-being. Road races are usually run for a cause. I’m not anti any of that but if you are looking at a grouping of road races do you need multiple road races in multiple weekends all within months? Is there a way to spread them out?”
Salem, which was designated a "runner-friendly community" by the Road Runners Club of America recently, averages between 300 to 1,000 runners in races that range in distance from 5-kilometers to a half marathon.
There is a race in all but three months out of the year, including the annual Wild Turkey Race on Thanksgiving, the Frosty Four Road Race on Jan. 1 and a race Halloween race during which runners dress the part.
Most of those races pass through the Salem Willows, according to Wicked Running Club President, Timothy Short, who is also recreation supervisor in Salem’s Parks and Rec Department.
“I definitely feel for those residents and understand where they are coming from,” said Short, who stressed that he was speaking as the president of the more than 300-member running club and not as a city official. “One thing the running community needs to make sure it does is work together, not only with the Salem government and the Salem PD, but the entire Salem community to make sure we find a viable solution so that races do work in concert with peoples' lives.”
He said most of the races run through the Willows because it’s a good way to eat up a big chunk of miles in a relatively traffic-free route.
“We’re hoping to look at other areas of the community so we can spread it out more evenly so that’s not the only neighborhood affected,” Short said.
Short said the city was designated a great running community because local businesses have been willing to sponsor races and because the running community gets great support from city government.
“We want to make sure we continue to promote [running] the best way possible and not run out, no pun intended, our welcome,” he said of continuing their reputation as a runner friendly community. “It’s great designation for the city. It’s a different designation. A lot of people associate Salem with Halloween and Haunted Happenings. This is something the city can promote from a healthy lifestyle standpoint.”
McCarthy said it might be a good idea to send out a reverse 911 call to inform residents that races are coming.
“Just to increase awareness to let people know when it’s happening so you don’t get stuck in traffic,” McCarthy said.
Dennis Floyd, the cross country coach at Salem State University, agreed with the idea of creating a master list but said he doesn’t think there are too many races in Salem.
“Road races do bring in revenue,” he said. “I’m in no position to say if it’s good or bad [for the community on the whole] but when you have a couple road races in town there are quite a few runners going into markets and restaurants.
“Those things have to be considered.”
Short said he’s currently trying to figure out how big of an economic impact the races have on the city. He said it’s unclear how many of the runners are coming in from out of town and how many are locals who would be more likely to just go home after the race.
He did note that a good amount of runners attended the Frosty Four Road Race post-race party at Tavern on the Square recently.
“I think that’s the unknown right now and I think that’s what everyone should focus on,” he said. “What kind of economic impact is there?”
Short said next to Salem Beverly had the most amount of road races last year with 10 events.
“I assume as we go along here with the running boom we’re all experiencing, other towns and cities on the North Shore might have to take a hard look at this and develop a smart growth plan for road races and running,” Short said. “This is not an attack on runners at all. I know sometimes people see something on Facebook and Twitter and jump to conclusions, but this is to get an understanding form a planning standpoint so everyone knows when the races are happening.
“No one is looking to cancel the running season in Salem. People are just trying to get a better handle on the situation.”
Justin A. Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.