Morris Park Commission, NJ Trail Series at Odds Over Ultramarathons

On 26 September, OXF reported that Morris County Park Commission won’t renew permits in 2012 for the Muddy Marathon, Mahlon Mayhem and NJ Ultra Festival.  Before publication, we were unable to contact anyone from the commission.  The following day, Executive Director Dave Helmer spoke with OXF to offer the commission’s side of the story.

After a meeting at Frelinghuysen Arboretum on the 26th, featuring a big turnout of NJ Trail Series supporters, Helmer said he would meet with organizer Rick McNulty to discuss the issues between them.

However, “They’re unable to give a meeting date,” said McNulty, although he’s has tried several times to set up a meeting with the commission.

“They’re not meeting certain standards,” said Helmer of NJ Trail Series.  “It’s in the best interest of the Park Commission and NJ Trail Series to discuss this.  They need to begin addressing what we expect of any group.”

Rather than specify actions that concerned the commission, Helmer preferred to let the NJ Trail Series “speak to things that haven’t been done.”  He added, “The policies are long-standing and 98 % of other event organizers conform to our requirements.”  Helmer said that there were no issues with the shorter NJ Trail Series events.

There are “very simple ways to be able to conform,” he continued, adding that an event organizer “can’t deviate from the race day checklist.”

“I wish he’d be more obvious on what he’d like.  He’s deflected that question back to us several times,” said McNulty.  “Jennifer [McNulty] and I even asked him point-blank in the meeting [public park commission meeting on 26 September] and he said we would discuss it in a later meeting.”

“Almost every race day, you have to improvise,” he added.  “Gates don’t open on time, you need additional cover from rain.  There’s always something that doesn’t go to plan on race day.”

McNulty added that the only thing Helmer told him was that if NJ Trail Series is limiting the use of the park by other persons, then the permit fee may be different.

While not specifying his concerns, Helmer referred to the a change to the Ultra Festival race route, saying part of the route was on the road, marked with cones.

Regarding cones, McNulty said that while he got a permit for the Columbia Rail Trail, the “park commission is not in charge of the roads.  We got permission from the Washington Township police department to use the roads and set cones as necessary.  The Washington Township police were OK with the way we ran the race.”  They’d be OK with us running the race next year.”

Finishers at a Wednesday night 5 k race in Central Park, Morris County

Finishers at a Wednesday night 5 k race in Central Park, Morris County

According to Helmer, in the cross country series’ first two seasons, the commission mistakenly undercharged NJ Trail Series for the use of Central Park.  He said the price differential  was between the charge for a public event occurring on public land and a private event occurring on private land.  He said a rate schedule was available from the commission’s reservation office.  OXF hasn’t yet obtained a copy.

McNulty praised the many parks in New Jersey, but said that not all were suitable for running a race.  As an example he cited the Tourne: “It’s a great park, but it doesn’t have great parking.”  His biggest challenges are adequate parking and bathroom facilities.

“We want to be a partner with them,” McNulty said of the park commission.  “I don’t know how they don’t see that it’s a win-win.”