How do you make a 212-mile running-relay through remote forestland safe? Call the County Mounties! Linda Harrison and her group of 18 ladies, with their husbands, patrol 25 miles of the Smoky Mountain Relay race course from Pickens Nose to Wayah Road one night a year.
During the Smoky Mountain Relay, one runner from each team starts at the Pink Beds in Brevard, and each team rotates through 36 legs until they reach the end of the race at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City. As teams race through the Nantahala National Forest in the dark, it’s a relief for them to know that the area is safe. Pussyfooter Carson Dellinger said that, “it’s really cool having the County Mounties help us feel safer.”
SMR Race Director Jim Brendle says the most important ingredient to making one of these races a success is having community support. He gets excited when he sees people getting involved. Brendle recalls the first time the County Mounties volunteered to help at the race.
“It was the middle of the night, and there were runners all over the place; and those men in their vehicles, with the headlights shining, were cheering everybody on—it was overwhelming!”
Another local volunteer group is the Lyndon B. Johnson Job Corps, led by Dan Uptegraph. Early in the morning on his day off, Uptegraph rouses a group of young men and young women and drops them off at their assigned exchanges. These youths help the runners connect during the exchanges and direct team vans in and out of parking locations.
There are many sights to be seen by the volunteers who work at the relay. They might see the granite dome of Looking Glass, or views from the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Mountain to Sea Trail as well as many picturesque valleys framed by tree-covered mountains and meandering streams.
Not only is this a beautiful part of the country for an event, Brendle says this has the potential to grow into an event that will generate significant dollars for the communities through which it passes. He hopes it will also become an event that the community looks forward to with anticipation, as much as the runners do.
The Maggots have run the Smoky Mountain Relay every year. Team member Matt Roane describes it as, “the most challenging and beautiful race I have ever participated in, and it is also the one I look forward to the most.” He and the rest of the Maggots have won the Blue Ridge Relay six years in a row.
For more information or to volunteer go to smokymountainrelay. com. The fourth annual Smoky Mountain Relay starts Friday, April 19, and ends April 20.