SHERIDAN — The Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run started in 1993 and has since grown into one of the more popular ultramarathons in the world. While the race attracts runners from all walks of life, some believe it to be Sheridan’s best kept secret.
“I think it is one of the best kept secrets even though if you ask most people about it they probably would say, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard of that,’ but they don’t understand the impact of it,” said Shawn Parker, executive director of Sheridan Travel and Tourism.
Runners register for three of the trail run’s four races in October, and shortly after, the hotels are booked up for the third weekend in June.
Race director Michelle Maneval said she and her new business development employee, Becky Lieneman, sat down with Parker to talk about how to make a difference in the community.
“It is a big economic impact that in Sheridan a lot of people don’t know about,” Maneval said.
Economic impacts to Sheridan start with hotels, restaurants, gas stations and Fly Sheridan airlines benefitting from those traveling to Sheridan for the week or weekend. Stores and shops receive some visitors, but runners mainly hang around the breweries, campgrounds, hotels, restaurants or other race week event areas.
In those conversations, both Parker and Maneval brainstormed on how to make the week worth not only the athletes’ time, but also a positive environment for family members tagging along for support.
“One of the biggest and most important things about the race and any race is the trailing spouses effect,” Parker said. “You’ve got let’s say 1,000 racers, then you have 1,500 trailing family members if they bring one kid. That’s a lot of people to keep busy for a few days.”
The 2019 race week will feature bigger and bolder ideas, but for the 2018 season, the trail run team will host brewery events and a keynote speaker, Jennifer Pharr Davis.
Davis, the 2012 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, reached out to Maneval and her crew and asked for a chance to speak to the ultra-runner crowds in Sheridan.
The engagement will feature a children-specific portion, too.
The race goes beyond the tourism market, though. Businesses and service industries in Sheridan help run the main event. More than 300 volunteers work on the mountain to provide a safe and fun environment for the runners.
Medical and search and rescue teams crawl all over the mountain to provide aid and assistance to anyone in need. Businesses sponsor fun and necessary items for the runners’ swag bags.
Any net revenue from the race pumps back into the community by paying stipends for those contributing their time. Sheridan Area Search and Rescue ends up with around $5,000 to $8,000 to fund large-ticket items like stretchers and ATVs.
Other groups volunteering time, like the Tongue River Valley Community Center and Sheridan High School cross-country and track teams, reap the benefits financially at the end of the weekend from trail run profit payouts distributed to each volunteer group.
For those unaware of the action and impact the Trail Run has on the community, Parker suggests participating in some way during the course of the week’s events.
“If you ever need to be rejuvenated or reinvigorated about the community, that’s what I’d tell locals to do,” Parker said. “Get out there and see for yourself what it means to have all these people celebrating Sheridan.”