Twelve years after the Whitefish Legacy Partners (WLP) held the first slate of fall races to showcase the community’s growing network of trails, a long-awaited vision will come to fruition.
For the third year, the Whitefish Trail Legacy Run will feature a 50-kilometer (31-mile) ultramarathon that begins and ends at Depot Park in downtown Whitefish and is set to coincide with the Great Northwest Oktoberfest.
“The plan has always been to tie this event to Oktoberfest,” WLP Program Manager Jedd Sankar-Gorton said. “There was construction one year, then Covid, but it’s happening this year. The band will be playing as runners finish and it’s just a unique way to tie runners into another local event.”
When the Legacy Run was first conceived in 2010, there was only a single 10-kilometer course option, meant to showcase years of work done by WLP to bring sustainable recreation options to the Whitefish community in the form of the Whitefish Trail, a collaborative community effort to preserve public access, recreation and working forests.
Now, the Whitefish Trail features 47 miles of natural surface trail and 15 different trailheads scattered in and around town, on Big Mountain and in Haskill Basin. Recently, WLP, the city of Whitefish and the Flathead National Forest partnered to develop the Holbrook Overlook — an additional 3.8 miles of trail, a scenic overlook and a trailhead off Big Mountain Road.
“A lot of races out there are just about the run, there’s not much backstory to them,” Sankar-Gorton said. “This one has depth to it; we get to tell a story. You’re running across different pieces of land that speak to partnerships forged through years of work in order to build this opportunity.”
To reflect the growth of the trail, the Legacy Run has similarly exploded in size and now offers five different race options with distances from two to 31 miles and increasing in participants every year.
Somer Treat, a West Glacier resident, will be running the 50k for the third time, and this year’s event will be the 60th marathon or ultramarathon she’s competed in.
“It’s exciting in itself to finally feel like I have a hometown race I’m excited for,” Treat said. “Obviously I believe in the run and the Legacy Partners, but I also believe it’s a great opportunity for people who have never done a trail ultra, or even a marathon before, to try it. It’s an approachable, great scenic course.”
The 50k, which will take place on Oct. 1, routes runners from Depot Park in the heart of Whitefish to the Reservoir Trailhead before sending them climbing up the Whitefish Trail into Haskill Basin and up to the summit of Big Mountain at Whitefish Mountain Resort. The course rises 6,000 feet crossing city, private and federal land, demonstrating the connectivity of conservation partnerships in the area.
Treat points out that while the vertical component of the run may seem daunting, it’s far less than some of Montana’s other prominent 50k races, such as the Rut in Big Sky.
“The first year, so many of the people who did it were just locals, and I think it’s cool to get people excited about a backyard event,” Treat said. “But the vision is to be able to run down the trail and end up chatting with someone from Florida or Maine and make it a race people want to come to Whitefish for.”
On Oct. 2, racers with an inclination towards shorter distances will have the opportunity to explore the Beaver Lakes area of the Whitefish Trail with four course options — a half-marathon course that follows a network of single-track trail surrounding Dollar, Little Beaver and Woods lakes; a 10-kilometer loop around Murray Lake; a five-kilometer tour of the South Beaver Lake Loop; and a two-mile family fun run that meanders along the Whitefish Trail.
“This trail and these projects are not something that happens on their own, but now you can’t imagine Whitefish without them,” Sankar-Gorton added. “If work stopped today, the trail wouldn’t grow another inch, but these events let the community establish a personal connection to these places.”
“The 50k in particular feels like this microcosm event that speaks to all the work we do and have been doing for so long,” Sankar-Gorton said. “It’s not just a trail run, it’s a showcase of the Whitefish Trail as a wonderful recreation option and it speaks to the partnerships, conservation and community vision at the heart of what we do.”
The ultramarathon will be limited to 400 participants. Learn more and register at https://www.whitefishlegacy.org/event/whitefish-trail-run/
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