The Great Outdoors
Siskiyou Outdoor Recreation Alliance…
If you’re anywhere near Mount Shasta on the 4th of July, the Annual Walk/Run has been the place to kick off the city’s holiday festivities for the last four decades. Formed under the direction of Dr. Jim Parker in the early ‘80s, the event was created to promote personal and community health – and now attracts upwards of 3,000 to 5,000 registrants each year. “It has become part of the cultural fabric of Mount Shasta. Some people have attended every single event,” explains Justi Hansen, executive director of the Siskiyou Outdoor Recreation Alliance that now oversees the event. Smiling, she adds that people often tell her they “still have all of the shirts,” referencing the coveted race T-shirt that’s uniquely designed each year to show race participation.
This year, however, is different. As with so many events since the pandemic, event organizers pivoted to a virtual walk/run event where registrants can participate from home and still get their T-shirt. The decision to do so was made alongside city officials, the Chamber of Commerce and the Mount Shasta Community Fireworks group, and while necessary, was also heartbreaking. “There was a grieving process when we finally had to just let it go, but there was also this relief knowing that it’s the right thing to do,” describes Laurel Harkness, board president for the Siskiyou Outdoor Recreation Alliance. But even with the shift, community commitment has remained strong. “We already passed our minimum goal for registration and T-shirt sales so we now have enough proceeds from the event to give a minimum of $500 to each of the youth sports organizations that have supported the live event in the past. So that feels really good,” Hansen says.
Adaptive resiliency has also become something of a mantra for the Mountain Runners organization itself, the group that had historically put on the Run/Walk event. Then, in 2018, it underwent some major organizational changes, merging with another longtime Mount Shasta organization called the Nordic Ski Park to form the Siskiyou Outdoor Recreation Alliance. While the pairing of a summer event and winter pastime initially seems unusual, the underlying vision is far-reaching. “Sean Doyle, our current board treasurer, was a founding board member of the Mt. Shasta Nordic Ski organization. He was also the president of the Mountain Runners board, which was getting burned out because they had been involved for close to 30 years. So, Sean had this brilliant idea of taking 4th of July, which is very consistent in terms of turnout, and bringing it together with the Nordic Center, which was a little inconsistent because of the drought,” explains Hansen.
Patching unique vulnerabilities has led to a bigger, more robust organization with an expanded vision about recreation and access to it in the Shasta-Siskiyou region. “There was also this acknowledgment that those two organizations aren’t the only ones in the community that actually have very similar vulnerabilities, so we’ve structured the organization in a way that can accommodate other future events, programs and organizations that face those same challenges.” By merging two well-established organizations, she “feels confident going out and developing partnerships because we have a very solid reputation.” One of the most exciting new partnerships has led to a new major event that will be even bigger than the 4th of July when Grinduro comes to town in mid-September, bringing global attention to the region. A world-famous cycling event with major brand sponsors, the race will be held at the Mt. Shasta Ski Park and is part Gravel Road Race and Mountain Bike-Style Enduro with 700-plus riders competing on a challenging course with four timed segments. The rest of the weekend is about riding for fun and enjoying the weekend’s festival atmosphere. “The visibility is pretty extensive, so it’s great for the community. One of the things that people are most excited about is the fact that the Ski Park is going to be running the lifts through the weekend so people will have the opportunity to camp out, party, ride the lift up, ride the bikes down kind of thing. And that’s a very unique feature that other past Grinduros haven’t had,” says Harkness.
Another novel feature of this particular Grinduro – and a nod to Siskiyou Outdoor Recreation Alliance’s commitment to increased access to recreation for all – was the decision to hold 30 percent of the slots for women, since Hansen jokes that most bike races are typically “just a bunch of dudes.” She adds, “We had 490 spots for all the men’s categories that sold out in like 15 minutes, but we set aside 210 spots for women that all sold out in less than four hours. Next year the goal is to try to have 50 percent female participation, which would be pretty incredible to see that many women in a bike race.”
Whether the pandemic will throw the organization another curve ball, Hansen is cautiously optimistic. “It’s been kind of a crazy, dynamic experience. But we’re lucky that the bigger sponsors are in, and we’re feeling so blessed that we have this date of mid-September because I think the state’s going to be open by then.” She’s also pleased that the selection of the ski park will give people room to spread out for better social distancing. Harkness echoes the positive outlook, citing the importance of outdoor recreation, especially during uncertain times. “I think we’re recognizing that outdoor recreation is a huge part of everybody’s life, even when things are most challenging so we want to double-down, if you will, to make sure we can keep people outside.”