Whitefish Legacy Partners Kicks Off Annual Hit the Trail Challenge, Rebrands Fall Trail Races

The month-long trail challenge in May and October’s “Whitefish Trail Blazer” running festival are two of the nonprofit’s largest fundraisers

By Micah Drew
A sign near the Big Mountain Trailhead of the Whitefish Trails system on May 13, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The start of May served as the kickoff for the annual Whitefish Legacy Partners’ (WLP) Hit the Trail Challenge, a month-long annual community event that encourages use of the Whitefish Trail on foot, bicycle or horseback.

The sixth-annual challenge comes with a fundraising incentive, where every mile logged on the Whitefish Trail will be matched with a $1 donation to the nonprofit. Individuals, school groups, nonprofits and community groups can participate for free, and workplace teams can take part for a small fee. Teams compete for the coveted Shelldon the Turtle trophy, awarded to the team with the highest average mileage logged by members.

“The Whitefish Trail and surrounding open lands are one of our community’s greatest free health and wellness resources,” WLP Development Director Cynthia Ingelfinger said in a press release. “Our Hit the Trail Challenge encourages the community to improve physical and emotional health through outdoor recreation while supporting our local trails and reconnecting in nature after a long winter.”

Miles can be logged using an online form, by submitting a paper log sheet, or by uploading an activity to Strava and joining the Hit the Trail Challenge club.  

According to WLP Program Manager Nathan Tuebner, the trail challenge provides an opportunity to raise money for the trail system as usage begins to pick up coming out of the winter months.

“There’s usually downed trees and other routine maintenance issues we have to address every spring, and this is a great way to kickstart the fundraising season for us,” Tuebner said. “But more than anything this is about getting the community involved and encouraging them to get out there again as weather continues to improve, and use this great community asset that we have in the Whitefish Trail.”

Last year, more than 600 individuals logged 31,790 miles along the Whitefish Trail, which covers 47 miles around the city with 15 accessible trailheads. The Muldown Elementary School teachers were the top performing workplace team, with more than 400 collective miles.

A competitor in the 2021 Whitefish Trail Legacy Run 50k Mountain Ultra. Photo courtesy Whitefish Legacy Partners

One of the WLP’s other key fundraising efforts, a trail running series that takes place in October, is getting a facelift this year.

Formerly known as the Whitefish Legacy Runs, the 50-kilometer ultramarathon, half-marathon, 10k and 5k runs have been rebranded as the Whitefish Trail Blazer.

“This is such an awesome event that has room to grow, but we thought it needed a little more breathing room and its own identity within the Legacy Partners,” race director Cody Moore said. “Plus, the ‘Whitefish Legacy Partners 50k Mountain Trail Ultramarathon’ was a bit of a mouthful. The ‘Whitefish Trail Blazer’ rolls off the tongue and is a fun play on words with trail blazes and running blazing fast.”

The trail running festival will keep its two-day format, with the 50k (31-mile) ultramarathon taking place on Saturday, and the half-marathon, 10k, 5k and family fun run taking place on Sunday along the trails near Beaver Lakes.

Another change this year will be the 50k course, which has traditionally started and finished in downtown Whitefish’s Depot Park. To get to the Whitefish Trail from town, runners covered two miles at the start and end of the run, which Moore said took a little bit away from the mountain race. This year the event will start and finish at the base of Whitefish Mountain Resort (WMR).

“We can showcase the trails better with the new finish location and it makes this a 100% single-track and double-track race,” Moore said. “The goal is still to highlight the Whitefish Trails, and we’re adding on an extra alpine loop around Big Mountain that offers great views and awesome terrain. We’re looking to have a post-race party up on the mountain and hopefully draw in a crowd to cheer everyone on.”

The new course will start in the village at WMR, ascend to the top of Big Mountain, descend 3,500 feet to the Reservoir Trailhead, climb through a new section of the course across Stoltze land, make another ascent up to the bottom of Chair 5, and finish with a “blazing fast descent” down the Danny On Trail to the finish. Competitors will pass through the village area four total times, offering more chances for spectators to cheer on the runners.

“I’ll be honest, the new course makes it harder but it’s still a great event for beginners looking for their first 50k and for competitive runners looking to test themselves,” Moore said. “Our goal is to keep growing the Whitefish Trail Blazer and truly make it a premiere weekend for Montana trail racing.”

The Whitefish Trail Blazer will take place Oct. 5-6. To learn more visit the race website.

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