Thursday, August 21, 2014

The RD: Permits

This is Part 3 of a multi-part series focusing on the ins and outs of race directing. You can read the previous two parts by clicking their links below:
Part 1: The Decision
Part 2: Your Course

Permits. This is by far the hardest most tedious part of putting on a race. Anytime you are gathering a large group of people to use public lands, especially if you are accepting payment to do so, you need a permit. Parties who could require permits are Town/City and County Governments, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), United States Forest Service (USFS), Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP), and some of the above even require you obtain special written permission from private land owners before a permit is issued.
Each land manager is different, in that they each have a different set of priorities in deciding whether to issue a permit or not. No Town/City government is the same. No two county governments are the same. Even the USFS... no 2 ranger districts within the same National Forest are the same. For those who are attempting to put on multiple events, this fact alone can make the delicate balance of weaving ones way through bureaucracy to be rather overwhelming. 

So go back to the course you've planned. Take a look at the map and determine if your route goes over any Wilderness or other Federally Protected Areas. If it does, kiss the idea of obtaining a permit good bye. In most, if not all, cases.. you CAN NOT obtain a permit for special events in these areas. There is no loop hole, there is no "what-if." Also look at your course map and see what areas your course goes over to determine the entities you'll have to acquire a permit from. Examples:
  • Race #1: Teller County and Pike National Forest Pike Ranger District
  • Race #2: Douglas County, Pike NF South Platte RD, Roxborough State Park
  • Race #3: Park County, City of Fairplay, Pike NF South Park RD, Private Lane Owners
  • Race #5: Park County, City of Fairplay, Alma, Como, Pike NF South Park RD, White River NF Dillon RD, Town of Breckenridge, Summit County, Private Land Owners. 
In every instance above, you will not obtain a permit from one organization without having approval for permitting from all of the other organizations. Sometimes it is hard to wrestle with "who do I get the permit from first?" There is a process I follow that has been very successful to date.. here's how I work it:

1.) Plan a course.. RUN the course and make sure it works.. put it to a map. Hey.. you should never ask anyone to do something you wouldn't do yourself. Even if it's in sections when you do it.. get out there and run it. Make sure it works!
2.) Come up with a race name, date, and how many runners you'd like to max out at.
3.) Create a proposal to send to ALL of the land managers you'll need to contact. Be ready for some of those land managers to tell you additional land managers you'll need to contact. Some will be ones you didn't know about, others will be ones you've already contacted.
4.) Your proposal should be a brief summary of what you are planning. Dates, times, lands to use, number of runners, number of spectators, why it's good for the Town/City or County, how you plan to be amazing stewards of the resource for the USFS.
5.) Find out who from each agency needs to be looking at your proposal. Let them know you're just "feeling things out" for now to see if it's even possible to hold the event. From there.. if they like your proposal, you'll be thrust quickly into the permitting process. OR, you'll discover that they are not issuing new permits and asking them do so would be a huge waste of your time. 
6.) Once you get the initial "on board" from all entities involved, you'll be pushed into Permitting which will require you to submit a formal application for a permit. This application is a black and white copy of your entire event in words. Every detail.. Turn by turn course directions, parking, traffic routes, waste disposal, porta potties, aid stations, medical and other EMS services, emergency action plan, detailed maps, EVERYTHING will be put into black and white documentation and submitted with your application. This can take weeks to craft, start early! I took me a year and a half to obtain permits for Tommknocker Ultras. On the other hand, it took me 3 months to obtain a permit for Indian Creek Fifties.

Here are some things to consider; everything you do as an RD, and a permitted party of the lands used for your race, affects all other permitted users of the same lands. So if Race Director "A" screws up royally, it will affect Race Directors "B" and "C." 

Some Examples:
When heading up to Fairplay Colorado to plan the Human Potential Running Series events starting in 2015, I was required to answer a ton of questions based on the outcomes of the 2013 Leadville Race Series. Now, I have nothing to do with Lifetime Fitness and the Leadville 100, but the mistakes they made in 2013 were far reaching in Colorado's High Country. I had to prove to permitting agencies that I am not Lifetime or the Leadville race series and I was not going to be issued a permit for anything unless I adequately did so.

Ultra Race of Champions.. they applied for a Special Use Permit from the USFS for their event last year and were denied. They appealed all the way to the US Congress and was ultimately given a permit for one year. This year, they are putting on their race under the umbrella of the Special Use Permits for Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Vail ski areas. This is also why they were forced to move their event date from October to early September. Think about how their actions have also affected parties trying to get permits for other events in the Colorado High Country. The National Forest Ranger Districts that UROC races in have already implemented a moratorium on permitting of new events in the area and other ranger districts are soon to follow suit. All because it's more trouble than it's worth for them to issue the permits.

There are others starting races in Colorado. One of these race directors went through the permitting process and then cancelled the event before it ever even happened. This was an incredible waste of time to the USFS. Another one of this individuals events, is happening in 2014 and then never again. It's already a one and done event. Instances like this have caused the USFS to be very skeptical when it comes to issuing permits to new events. Why? Because they already lack time, money and other resources to permit events. In many cases, they are now asking race management entities to provide more information about their business that proves your race is there to stay for a number of years. If you are deemed as a liability, or likely a one and done individual, it is likely you won't get a permit. The more this happens, the less likely it is for others to get permits in these same areas. The actions of each RD affects everyone else. Hence, the moratorium on new permits.

Just because you get a permit does not mean you have it long term. Typically the USFS issues a one year probationary permit to see how things go. If your race is well directed, well attended, and you follow the guidelines set forth in your permit.. it is likely you'll then receive either a 3 or 5 year special use permit from the USFS for the years following. But you have to prove yourself first and even then, you can always lose a permit for any reason the governing body deems fit. 

Also keep in mind that Town, City and County Governments are looking at infrastructure and money when it comes to permitting. They want to know how much of the their resources you're going to need to use to make the race happen. How many ambulances, police/sheriff, etc. Then they'll look at the kind of draw your event will bring to the area. Will people be spending money on local business filling beds, eating food, shopping at stores? The USFS and BLM only cares about one thing.. the resource. They don't care how much money they make (it's minimal), they don't care about how much money the town makes.. they care about the land. 

In most cases, the USFS will permit your event for one year and see how it goes. After that, if you want to move ahead, a NEPA Study will have to be conducted before you are issued a multi-year permit. These studies are expensive, and YOU will have to help the USFS recuperate some of the costs to have that study completed. This factors in to the race coffers as well.. when you think a race is making tons of money 2 or 3 years in, it's still paying for the NEPA study. (More on this in Expenses coming up)

Permitting is the single hardest process of race directing. Without obtaining permits, you don't have a race. Piss land managers off, and you can affect the permitting of so many other events. Another Example: Badwater. There are various stories about why Badwater was denied permits this year. From what I understand it came down to one thing, the RD pissed off a land manager and she held the better hand. She denied permits for ALL races in Death Valley and that was that. Being careful not to pee in your neighbors backyard is HUGE. Knowing what you're doing is even bigger.