Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Dark Corners of a Race Director's Brain

AR Course Design: Checking out the Lay of the Land

This week we're continuing our series on how to plan a great race course. The next step is a no-brainer, but we'll tell you about some tools we use that will make life a whole lot easier: Get your hands on all the information you can about the area you are considering.

This is not the kind of map you need to plan a race. Read on for the materials that will actually help you.

You'll obviously need maps. Topographic maps, which are a graphic representation of the surface areas of a region like elevation and land composition, are critical. U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) topographic maps are readily available and come in scales ranging from 1:24,000 (7.5-minute) up to 1:250,0000. 7.5-minute maps are the typical maps used. For longer races, it's smart to get a bigger scale like a 1:63,000 (15-minute) or 1:100,000. The larger scale maps let you see the complete picture at one glance, and are excellent choices for staff, volunteers and race crews, or even spectators. If you are in a national forest or park, another good map source is the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series of topographic maps.

You should also look for local mountain biking, hiking, orienteering or paddle/canoeing organizations. These groups often produce publications that you can use for additional reference. An Internet search will produce a whole list of good information. This information will give you a good assessment of natural resources available and may point out opportunities you may not have known about.

Opening up communication with some of the clubs and organizations can also be beneficial. Not only will they gladly convey their perspective, but you may also find new allies in seeking out new volunteers or teams.

Less obvious but also very important to know early on are the property owners in the area. Your best friend here is the county plat directory. This is typically a small scale spiral bound 8-1/2" x 11" book of the county plat maps. Plat maps list the property boundaries and owners of all land parcels in a county. Usually, the plat directory is available for a small fee from the county surveyor or assessor office. It's a wise investment, because the plat maps are almost always more up-to-date than topo or park maps, which might get updated once every five years or more. There are also some online companies that sell these directories. We once found, using a plat map, that a park we were using had acquired more property. You also must acquire permission to use private properties for your race. Owner information will be very important for the permit process.

Once you have gathered all your study materials, it is time to dig in and start crafting the adventure race course.

So far, we've looked at choosing the race length and what you need to gather to begin laying out the course. Next Thursday, Shawn Dietrich will be back to offer more of his insites and the following week, we'll continue our discussion on AR Course Design.

Jerry Lyons and Dave Kauffman
Planet Adventure

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