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Bikers, hikers and runners should check out Cades Cove Loop

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By Larry Vaught, Sports correspondent

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There are not many races of any length in national parks and that makes the Cades Cove Loop Lope Nov. 3 in the Great Smokies Mountain National Park even more unique.

The event offers both a 5K (3.1 mile) and 10 mile course through historic Cades Cove, which will be closed to vehicular traffic, like it is every Sunday morning when bikers,  hikers and runners have a chance to travel part of all of the 10-mile loop through the park.

“This is a unique way to experience the splendor of the Cove and raise money to protect it for future generations, too,” said Kathryn Hemphill, director of park projects for Friends of the Smokies — a group that raised over $1.2 million last year for the park. “The first one was in 2010, and we did it because the road had been closed for repaving and we thought, ‘Why not a fundraiser run since the road is usually closed on Sundays anyway?’ We planned it in about five weeks.

“We all thought it was a one-time thing because it’s hard to close the road due to visitor impact. We don’t want to impact visitation and have visitors not be able to drive the scenic loop.”

That ended the event until 2017, when Friends of the Smokies thought it would be a “great idea to get people in the park and let runners who wanted to give back” to the national park and park officials were okay with the idea since the Cades Cove loop was still being closed on Wednesday and Sunday mornings to vehicular traffic.

“We don’t tell people camping there that they can’t be there. We don’t kick anyone out,” Hemphill said. “But you have to have a parking pass to get into the loop road that we sell since we are raising money for the park.”

When registration opens for both the 5K and 10 miler in July, participants have the option of buying a parking pass, riding with someone who has a parking pass or taking the free shuttle bus from the Townsend Visitor Center.

“Some runners will camp, some will rent cabins. A lot get lodging near Townsend because it is close and convenient to the park,” Hemphill said.

Registration is limited to 750 combined for the two runs. Last year’s event had representatives from 10 southeastern states where the national park has a large donor base. My sister and brother-in-law both finished the 10-mile run and plan to be back this November. So do I, since at my age you don’t want to assume you will have this unique opportunity a year from now even if Hemphill says plans are to have the fundraising event annually.

“As long as they will let us have it, we will. We have to apply for a permit every year, so as long as the park permits us to have it, we will,” Hemphill said. “There are a lot of logistics and the (park) rangers help us so much. We have a great relationship with the park staff and that only helps make the event even better.”

For more information go to https://friendsofthesmokies.org/looplope/.

For other questions, please contact Friends of the Smokies at Kathryn@FriendsOfTheSmokies.org or call 800-845-5665.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the race?

The Cades Cove Loop Lope is Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019. The 10-mile race begins at 7:30 a.m., and the 5k race begins at 7:35 a.m.

How long is the race?

A 5-kilometer route and 10-mile route will be available. The 5k route will be swept after 1.5 hours. The 10-mile route will be swept after 2.5 hours.

Will Cades Cove be closed during the event?

Yes. Cades Cove Loop Road will be closed until 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 3. Personal vehicles without a vehicle pass will not be permitted past the Townsend Wye until 11 a.m. on race day.

What about the Cades Cove campground?

The National Park Service offers camping in Cades Cove year-round. During the race weekend, camping is only available on a first-come first-serve basis. For questions about camping, please contact the Cades Cove Campground Kiosk at 1-865-448-4103.

What do I get for registering?

Every participant who registers by Oct. 31 will receive a t-shirt and finisher medal.

Does every participant need a vehicle pass?

Vehicles passes are extremely limited, so we highly recommend carpooling or taking the provided group transportation. If you are planning to participate with your family/friends/team/coworkers, only one of you needs to buy a vehicle pass at the time you register, not every individual. The more people you can safely and legally fit in your vehicle, the better. Group transportation will be available to and from Townsend. If you do not have a vehicle pass or are not riding with someone who does, you must take the provided group transportation. Personal vehicles without a pass will not be permitted past the Townsend Wye.

Can I volunteer?

Yes. We love to have volunteers for our events. You can see position descriptions and register as a volunteer at RunSignup.com in July. We will need volunteers for aid stations, course monitoring, and check-in.

Can I walk? What about strollers?

Walkers and joggers with strollers will line-up at the back of the starting group for both the 5k and 10-mile courses.

Will there be aid stations?

Yes. Aid stations will be available throughout both courses to offer water. We encourage you to bring a reusable water bottle to start the race.

Is this course certified?

Yes, both courses are certified by USATF.