Magazine article E Magazine

The Eco-Challenge Gets Challenged

Magazine article E Magazine

The Eco-Challenge Gets Challenged

Article excerpt

If you call your event "ECO-Challenge," the last thing you want is bands of environmentalists waving angry, in-your-face placards for the TV cameras at the starting line. But that's just what happened in April, with the U.S. debut of "adventure racing," inspired by the grueling, French-sponsored Raid Gauloises.

Adventure races thrive on teamwork. Competitors divide into groups of five (including at least one woman), and if any one racer drops out the whole team is disqualified. Eco-Challenge chose a very demanding 370-mile course that took 50 international teams through southeastern Utah's backcountry, most of it owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Racers ran, rode on horseback and mountain bikes, climbed mountains, swam, even whitewater rafted.

What makes it an eco-race? English-born founder Mark Burnett, a Raid Gauloises veteran, adopted a "pack it in, pack it out" strategy from the beginning. "We have a major responsibility for how we treat this land," he told the racers.

No one doubts that southeastern Utah is environmentally sensitive. Race organizers had to plan a route around the nesting sites of rare peregrine falcons, and the lambing grounds of endangered big-horn sheep. The desert surface surrounding the course includes delicate cryptobiotic crust, which can take decades to recover from trampling feet.

Eco-Challenge says it spent months researching the best low-impact route, and issued race guidelines that included "packing out" all waste, staying on trails at all times, and avoiding contact with wild-life. …

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