After local concerns, organizers scrap marathon idea and plan Sonoma Coast Half Marathon
Controversial plans for a long-distance footrace on the Sonoma Coast this fall have been revised in response to community concerns about closing Highway 1 for a large part of the day, with organizers now saying they’ll stage a half-marathon instead of a full one of 26.2 miles for the inaugural year.
Altered race-day arrangements also would allow for traffic in single-lane convoys spaced at hourly intervals during the run to ensure residents and coastal visitors can have some freedom of movement while the race proceeds.
That’s the plan that will be presented during a March 31 meeting of the Sonoma County Coast Municipal Advisory Council in Bodega Bay, which will provide the first and likely only public airing of the Sept. 29 event proposal.
The amended plans mean the hard road closure will be significantly curtailed compared to what initially had been proposed and was roundly criticized by people concerned about the inconvenience to coastal residents and visitors and the effect to local businesses.
“You’re not successful unless you have community buy-in,” said Lacie Flannery, managing partner with Napa-based Blistering Pace Race Management, which is working with partners to launch the Sonoma Coast Half Marathon and Bodega Bay 5K.
Organizers want to show the community “that we do listen, and we hear your concerns,” Flannery said. “So we go through year one together so you can see our level of professionalism. That’s important to us.”
Plans for the race first trickled out to the public beginning about two months ago as organizers prepared to submit permit applications to various state and local agencies, inciting varying degrees of doubt and outrage among coastal inhabitants about local economic and environmental effects.
Most critics cited plans to shut down Highway 1 in both directions between Fort Ross and north Bodega Bay during what’s still high season in a region that’s heavily dependent on tourism.
“It’s one of the busiest weekends of our year — one of the last weekends of our summer season, the last weekend before commercial salmon season ends,” Bodega Bay Chamber of Commerce President Lira Filippini said. “There’s a whole bunch of things that kind of collide making that a very busy weekend for the coast. We’re kind of seasonal out here.”
Many people also feel disrespected given the approach taken by organizers, who spent months arranging for an event that might have earned some enthusiasm had it been planned with input from local residents and businesses, she said.
“They really just completely bypassed us,” Filippini said. “… There are people who might have been supportive had it been scheduled for the off-season instead of the very height of our season.”
The event is the brainchild of former Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, now director of government and community relations for nonprofit Burbank Housing and principal of the limited liability company formed last June to host the race.
Carrillo took his inspiration in part from the 33-year-old Big Sur International Marathon and the proliferation of athletic endurance events around Sonoma County, which has become a premier destination for cyclists and runners, with hopes of showcasing the stunning Sonoma Coast.
Runner Kenny Brown, for one, is on board.
As manager at Heart and Sole Sports in Santa Rosa, he manages the store’s training groups and said he knows there’s interest in joining the race. But he also thinks it’s another way to “show off our coast, and therefore it’s also bringing more tourists into the area and more revenue.”