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We All Scream for Cycling

news_shonnyvanlandinghamXTERRA triathlon comes to Santa Cruz
After two years of working with the Department of Economic Development on special projects, such as bringing the Amgen Tour to Santa Cruz, Jennifer Karno wanted to do more to promote Santa Cruz as a destination for natural beauty and year-round outdoor adventure.

“Some people move to Santa Cruz because it’s a place where you can work hard and play hard, but we’re not known for promoting it, so many don’t realize that we have one of the biggest bike industries really in the country,” Karno says. “I’m passionate about bringing off- season tourism here in a sustainable way, because in that time between October and June our economy suffers.”

After a year and a half of consideration, an upcoming event that marks a public-private collaboration between XTERRA and the City of Santa Cruz, state parks and Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks aims to do just that. Santa Cruz’s own Wilder Ranch State Park will host the 2011 XTERRA triathlon Pacific Championship, including one of six regional championship races in XTERRA’s America Tour.

“This will give Wilder some publicity and we will get people who have never even been to Santa Cruz to see the park,” Karno says. “Which is great because without visitors, our park is dead.”

Funding to California’s 279 state parks has been reduced drastically in recent years due to the state’s budgetary hole. In November 2010, voters defeated Proposition 21, which would have raised $500 million a year for the parks by increasing vehicle license fees by $18 a year.

Wilder Ranch is vast and stretches from the edge of the UC Santa Cruz campus on Empire Grade west to Gray Whale Ranch and down to the bluffs, including the chaparral, grassy hills, and wetlands habitats. Wilder’s focus has been on preservation rather than recreation, and the park has not hosted a major event of this kind in 11 years.

Karno hopes to follow in the steps of other parks, like Annadel Park in Sonoma County, which hosted a two-day mountain bike race last year, in order to raise much-needed funding for Wilder. Funding from event parking, food vendors and sale of park merchandise will go to Wilder, and Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks will receive proceeds derived from runner and triathlete registration fees.

Preservation of the trails and wildlife habitat at Wilder was among top concerns in the design of the path across the mountains, which will only be open and in use for a few hours the morning of Sunday, May 15.

“We consulted groups like Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz, XTERRA staff, park staff and others to know where the route would be,” says Kamo. “We took care not to go over sensitive ecosystems.”

Kathy Frank, who just returned from the International Triathlon Union World Cup championships in Spain, is very excited to see the XTERRA come to Santa Cruz.

“The course will be challenging and beautiful—Wilder has so much natural beauty and wildlife and we are going to keep it well maintained,” says Frank, who like many community members, has been deeply involved with the planning process, helping to chart out the single track paths and fire roads that make up the mountain course.

The weekend kicks off on Saturday, May 15 with five, 10 and 20km (half-marathon) races and a shorter sport distance race, followed by separate standard and championship triathlons on Sunday. Winners of the championship triathlon from each age bracket will qualify for the 2011 XTERRA World Championships.

Frank, who has been running triathlons for 30 years and won the XTERRA World Championship in Maui for her age bracket in 2008, says that the triathlon course, with ocean swimming and more than 2,000 feet of elevation gains and losses in the mountain bike route, will be very challenging. The route includes a 1.5K swim at Cowells Beach, a short bike ride down West Cliff Drive to the 14 miles of mountain bike trails at Wilders, and then back down to the bluff for a 10K—a course Frank says will be “stunningly beautiful.”

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