- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

It is time to lobby the National Park Service to allow races that are on their lands to accept race-day registration.

NPS’s long-standing policy is hurting events by prohibiting the collection of entry fees on its property, which includes East and West Potomac parks in Washington and Belle Haven Park in Alexandria.

The policy further inconveniences runners who have to travel a day or two prior to race day to complete registration.

Case in point — today’s Veterans Day 10K in West Potomac Park.

“It is a violation for any event to accept funds [registration fees] on National Park Service property,” according to the Web site of the event organized by Capital Running Company. “We want to continue to conduct races in both East and West Potomac Parks for your enjoyment. You must register before Sunday.”

Runners that didn’t register online or by mail and didn’t decide until the last minute that they wanted to run, will be disappointed after waking up early and parking miles from the race only to be turned away.

I believe this prohibition from the National Park Service was instituted in the late 1980s to purge the National Mall of its herds of T-shirt vendors.

But it’s time to change this policy because it affects road races, it’s silly and it deters many runners from entering races on federal park land.

In a four-page race permit granted to Potomac Valley Track Club for its upcoming Christmas Caper races at Hains Point, NPS included three pages of restrictions. In bold type, it reads: “Participants must be pre-registered. No collection and/or acceptance of fees permitted on park land.

“No fee may be collected, donation solicited nor commercial activity conducted. No items may be sold or offered for sale except for books, newspapers, leaflets, pamphlets, buttons and bumper stickers which contain a message related to your demonstration or special event.”

For years, PVTC has found a gaping loophole in the policy.

“What we are allowed to do is sell event-related brochures,” long-time PVTC race director Rolland Elliott said. “We’ll sell you this brochure on our club and races for $5 and you can sign up for the race. They say we cannot sell on federal property. At Belle Haven, we will go across the street and conduct registration off the park property.”

It took Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore more than two decades beginning in 1885 to persuade the Superintendent of Public Building and Grounds for NPS to plant cherry trees in Washington. Race directors, charity groups and runners should unite and start to change policy.

Fall madness — High school football is not the only sport with regional and national rankings. Cross country runners can see how they compare against their peers at other schools across the country, thanks to Dyestat.com.

However, the bragging rights come at the end of the season with the Nike Team Nationals on Dec. 2 in Portland, Ore. With just three weeks left, several Washington area schools, including Greenbelt’s Eleanor Roosevelt’s girls team (No. 2 in the Southeast Region) and the Brentsville (Va.) boys team (No. 3), are high in the rankings that were released Friday.

With big wins in their regional championships in Week 9 last week, Gaithersburg’s Quince Orchard boys team moved up one spot to sixth in the region. Vienna’s Oakton High boys finally moved into eighth place and the Lake Braddock (Burke) girls maintained their standing in sixth place.

With state meets concluded, next up is the inaugural “XC Border War” organized by the American Running Association on Nov. 18 at Smokey Glen Farm in Gaithersburg.

“I’m trying to bring together some of the best high school cross country runners in Virginia, Maryland and D.C.,” said ARA executive director Dave Watt, adding that he got the idea from the Nike Border Clash on the Nike campus in Beaverton, Ore., which pits the best of Washington and Oregon in a similar dual.

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