BattleFrog Obstacle Race damaged trails, hills at Lake Sonoma

An adventure run with military-style obstacles that brought thousands of athletes to compete on a course at Lake Sonoma has left behind damaged trails and hillsides that remain two weeks after the event, rais ing complaints from users of the federal parkland.

Organizers of the BattleFrog Obstacle Race Series and officials with the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and manages the 17,000-acre property around the lake, have said that rainfall for three days leading up to the Feb. 20 event led to delays in post-race cleanup. BattleFrog has retained a contractor that is expected to begin about $8,000 in repairs this weekend, just as the rains have started again.

But the delay in work allowed concerns to brew among people who regularly use the trails on foot or by horse as they came across what appeared to be haphazardly widened trails and deep tracks left behind by the heavy equipment brought in to set up the obstacle course.

In the mist of the gathering storm Friday morning, Anne Bettencourt, 70, of Rohnert Park hiked through a long rut that cut 2 feet into the earth on the Half a Canoe fire trail where the race took place. She’s among a handful of people who have contacted Sonoma County supervisors, the Army Corps, Friends of Lake Sonoma and other stakeholders of the recreation area to complain about the race’s impacts.

“They destroyed our mountain,” Bettencourt said.

BattleFrog donated $10,800 to Friends of Lake Sonoma in place of the approximately $3,000 permit fee to hold the race, an option given to most event organizers, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. In the contract, BattleFrog organizers agreed to leave the land in good condition.

Supervisory Ranger Joel Miller said the damage on the trail looks bad but is actually easily repaired and part of what park officials expected with the event, which was issued a permit that allowed the use of heavy equipment, including forklifts and tractors, on the fire trails.

Damage in areas off the trail is what concerns Miller most, including an area where it appears a tractor became stuck in the mud as well as a 1,000-foot stretch of grassland heavily trampled by attendees.

“They did take our concerns into consideration as soon as they realized there was a problem,” Miller said. “I do believe their intent is to make it right. They have not dragged their feet or anything.”

Hay bales and straw waddles were piled up near the trail entrance Friday. Those materials are needed to cover exposed soil and bolster areas at risk of erosion and the installation needs to happen immediately, rain or shine, Miller said.

Park rangers and natural resource specialists will ensure the conditions of the permit are met and, if not, they can issue citations in federal court, Army Corps spokesman J.D. Hardesty said.

There has been no damage to the watershed and the Corps is working to prevent silt from entering the lake, Hardesty said.

Part of the problem is that the rangers hadn’t yet reviewed the area where the event took place, and they were alerted to the problems by horseback riders. That gave Bettencourt, whose family has property off Rockpile Road, and others the impression that the problem was not being addressed, she said.

Shane McColgin, 64, of Forestville observed the damaged trails on horseback. The ruts didn’t impede her ability to ride the trails, which she does about twice a month, but they were a real eyesore when she rode several days after the event.

“I passed four people hiking together who approached me and they said, ‘What happened here?’?” McColgin said. “It’s so upsetting, what has happened to the trails. It really was quite scarring.”

The BattleFrog obstacle course race brought about 2,000 people to watch and participate in the event, which was installed at the Half a Canoe Loop trail off Rockpile Road. That number was beyond the 1,300 people expected, said Dean Joyce, BattleFrog’s race operations director.

The BattleFrog event is an 8-kilometer course with about 25 obstacles that include ladders, ropes and inverted walls, and challenges like running with heavy sacks and weighted cans. Participants climbed over and under walls, swung on ropes and scrambled over mounds of dirt.

Joyce said that three days of rainfall, though light, leading up to the race left the ground wet, which made it unwise to do remediation work right away. Weather records show about 0.7 of an inche of rain fell in the area during that time period.

“We would end up doing more damage than good. We have to let the ground dry,” Joyce said.

Joyce said that race organizers are aware that they are holding the events in parklands, which brings the added responsibility of leaving the land in good condition.

“We understand the level of restoration that needs to take place,” Joyce said.

Healdsburg resident Scott Keneally, who competed in the BattleFrog event with his wife and about a dozen of their friends, said it was “one of the most beautiful courses I’ve been on.

“It rivaled the beauty of Lake Tahoe,” he said.

Keneally, who is a regular participant in obstacle course-based competitions across the country, said that he is very familiar with the area because he has run on the Half a Canoe trail about two or three times a week for the past five years. He said that he was back on the trail two days after the race and didn’t find the damage extensive, beyond the entrance area torn up by the earth movers.

“The wild boar tear up that landscape more,” Keneally said.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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