Texas State Parks Welcoming Adventure Racers

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AUSTIN, Texas — In the coming months, a handful of Texas state parks will host a fledgling sporting event — Adventure Racing — that offers a physical challenge, lessons in teamwork and yet one more excuse to enjoy the great outdoors.

This close cousin to the triathlon, a popular swimming-biking-running event popularized by Hawaii’s Ironman, marries a myriad of skills such as mountain biking, paddling, climbing, hiking and map-reading (orienteering). Two, three and four-person teams, many of them coed, participate in outdoor competitions that last from 2-48 hours.

During the next seven months, state parks from the verdant Pineywoods of East Texas to rugged canyonlands of the Texas Panhandle will welcome this burgeoning breed of athlete looking for both adventure and the thrill of competition amid some of the most scenic terrain in Texas. Park managers and event organizers have come to appreciate the symbiotic relationship that benefits everyone involved.

Bill Smart, who manages Tyler State Park where events have been staged the past two years, views the adventure races as both an opportunity to expand the park’s customer base and a way to generate additional revenue. Recent events, he said, have earned the state park more than $1,000 per event and as well as public relations points. He expects this year’s event to draw more than 100 competitors and supporters.

"The races bring in a totally different kind of customer who begins to understand what kind of things they can do in a state park," Smart said. "And they pay camping and entry fees that help us operate our facilities. We also get Internet exposure and local media attention. It’s all good."

Rodney Skyles runs SteelSports.net, LLC, which organizes and stages the adventure racing events. The former Fort Worth seminary student, himself an adventure racer, and has found states parks to be ideal sites for the events due to their excellent trails and water access, as well as providing necessary facilities, such as restrooms and campgrounds that make race logistics so much easier.

"It’s cool to use state parks because all around Texas you have these natural gems," Skyles said. "They’re all different with trail systems offering varying degrees of difficulty, access to cool rivers and lakes and clean facilities."

Individuals pay about $100 to participate in one of the Texas & Southwestern Adventure Race Championship Series events. The fee covers race entry, t-shirts, post-race meal, maps and other race materials, as well as park entrance and camping fees.

Typically, Skyles explained, race participants and their supporters show up at the park on a Friday evening, set up camp and await the starting gun the next morning. Participants never know exactly what time the race will start and in what order the events will be staged. Winning teams accumulate points for the race series, with the top three winning prize packages at the end of the season.

The first state park on this year’s race schedule hosting an adventure race will be on Feb. 28 at Martin Dies, Jr. State Park near Jasper. A 50-team limit has been established for the event that will feature mountain biking, paddling, trekking and orienteering over a distance of approximately 30-40 miles. A 24-foot climbing wall has been added to the competition mix as well.

Other state parks serving as race event sites are: Caprock Canyons in Quitaque (March 27), Tyler (April 24), Lake Mineral Wells (July 17) and Cooper Lake/South Sulphur Unit near Sulphur Springs (Aug. 21).

For registration forms and information on the adventure racing series, call SteelSports toll free at (866) 447-1426 or access the Web site (http://www.steelsports.net). For additional information about Texas State Parks, call (800) 792-1112.