It’s no secret that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park draws a lot of vacationers to Blount County every year. Blount County tourism has been growing, and last year expanded to include a new type of attraction: destination racing.
In 2014, Blount County caught the attention of a fledgling company called Vacation Races. VR was founded by Salem Stanley, an entrepreneur with a passion for our country’s national parks. According to Marketing Director Dehn Craig, one of the main goals of VR is to “incentivize park visitation,” which is why VR partners with and raises money for the National Parks Foundation.
VR hosted its inaugural half marathon in Zion National Park in 2013. Based on its great success, several more races have been added, including the Great Smoky Mountain Half Marathon.
As Dehn points out, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is exceptional in the fact that it has multiple gateway communities, in Tennessee and North Carolina. Ultimately, Vacation Races chose Blount County because “the feel of Blount County and Townsend itself is more in tune with our idea for the races.” They wanted to steer clear of areas that are crowded and overdeveloped in favor of a place that is “quieter, closer to nature.”
The second annual Great Smoky Mountain Half will take place on September 12, 2015. Approximately 1,500 people are registered for the event. These runners, joggers, and walkers represent 38 states, 3 countries, and 28 teams. Two-thirds of those entered are female, and nearly half are between the ages of 35 and 49. VR awards place medals for the top five times in each gender division and finishing medals to all participants. Last year, the course records were set by Varinka Ensminger of Lexington, KY at 1:39:20 for females and Tim Drake of Cincinnati, OH at 1:25:40 for males.
The course begins near Heritage High School in Maryville and ends at the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center in Townsend. This is an open course, which means racers will be running alongside traffic. Spectators are welcome at the starting and finishing lines, but not along the route.
Vacation Races is adamant about preventing litter at their events, which is why their races are “cup-free.” To make sure their runners stay hydrated, VR offers a Hydrapouch with every registration. This is one of the many ways VR works to preserve and promote their beautiful destinations and the local community.
VR also really wants to get people into the national park after the race is run. That’s why they’ve organized the Chimney Club and the Great Smoky Mountain Trifecta. The Chimney Club is a hike for the hardcore all the way to the summit of the Chimney Tops Trail. Those who complete the hike and send a picture of themselves sporting their race bib and finishing medal to VR will receive 50% off next year’s registration. Do the same at each point of the Trifecta–Cades Cove, Laurel Falls, and Clingman’s Dome–and get 20% off next year.
Connect with VR on social media @VacationRaces using #GSMHalf.
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