Battlefield Marathon boosts tourism for a day - or two or three

Battlefield Marathon boosts tourism for a day - or two or three

March 21st, 2012 by Mike O'Neal in Catoosa

The Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon has earned renown as being one of the best such events in the country.

In 2010, readers of Runner's World magazine recognized this race, run through the nation's oldest and largest military park, as the "Most Family Friendly" marathon, runner-up as "Most Scenic" marathon and third best overall marathon in America.

The Fort Oglethorpe Tourism Association presents this race that is produced by the Chattanooga Track Club every Veterans Day weekend. More than eight months remain until race day, Nov. 10, but plans are being finalized for this one-day event that last year attracted runners from 32 states.

"Registration for the 2012 race opened on March 1," CTC race director Jenni Berz said during a meeting with the Tourism Association.

Rather than promoting this as an eat and run event, the overall goal is to attract repeat visitors, much like the track club has group runs through the park throughout the year.

Chattanooga Track Club race director Jenni Berz is helping coordinate the annual Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon. Photo by Mike O'Neal

And up until the race's starting gun - or in this case, cannon - organizers will continue to fine tune ways to not only offer a stellar race but to also showcase Fort Oglethorpe.

In order for the park to remain open to non-runners and to safely operate a race over the battlefield's narrow lanes, the National Park Service has set 1,500 as the maximum number of marathoners that can compete on race day.

While that number remains constant, race organizers continue adding activities for non-runners and runners alike.

Now in its 33rd year, this marathon is steeped in history, not so much for the run itself as for the terrain it traverses.

The course covers ground where one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles was waged in September 1863. The result was the Confederacy's final major victory of the war, leading to a Union force that regrouped and within a few months fought its way out of Chattanooga to begin Gen. W.T. Sherman's march through Georgia.

While last year's commemorative T-shirt heralds the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon as "26.1 Miles of History," there is a broader historical aspect to this event that is also a financial boost to the community.

Along the race route, re-enactors in period costume will staff water stations, and living history displays are being scheduled for the Veterans Day weekend. The race's start/finish is on the same Barnhardt Circle that was once home to the officers and enlisted men of the U.S. 6th Cavalry. And an after-race dance will again be held on the grounds of the Gordon-Lee House in downtown Chickamauga.

While most attention focuses on logistics of staging the race itself, organizers consider promoting the city as important to the event's success.

"Road races and track events are growing," Berz said. "We want the Battlefield Marathon to maintain its status as a 'must do' event."

In the few years since moving its starting point from Chickamauga to Fort Oglethorpe, the marathon has provided a big boost to local businesses.

The CTC spends about $20,000 - about one-third of total expenditures for this one-day event - locally.

Printing T-shirts, banners and signs is done in Fort Oglethorpe. Busses to shuttle spectators and runners are hired locally. A pre-race banquet is catered at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. And this year, a CTC member offered to repaint the 6th Cavalry Museum's flag pole at no charge to the museum or the city.

In addition, other track club events during the year generate about $15,000 in sales.

Motels and restaurants throughout the county, but particularly in the city proper, see noteworthy increases, some resulting in "no vacancy" signs, in traffic as racers arrive Friday night to run on Saturday.

All in all, the CTC estimates the economic impact of bringing more than 3,000 runners, their families and friends to spend the day in Fort Oglethorpe at more than $100,000.

Tourism Association members would like to show off the city to both out-of-town guests and those whose home is fewer miles away than the distance they will cover on the marathon course.

Nearly 84 percent of marathoners and about 59 percent of half-marathoners traveled more than 50 miles to participate in the race, coming from Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Knoxville, Nashville and points both between and beyond.

This year's marathon has also been designated the Georgia state championship race by Road Runners Club of America, the nation's oldest and largest organization in the United States dedicated to distance running.

For most dedicated runners, this marathon is not so much about winning as it is about improving one's own performance while joining others in pursuit of a sport they love.

Spreading the sport's appeal has also led the CTC to partner with Children's Hospital Foundation to present the Junior Miracle Marathon to benefit Children's Hospital at Erlanger.

Berz said getting youngsters involved in running is both a good way to combat the expanding problem of childhood obesity and a way to bring new blood to the sport.

"We could not do this without your tourism association, the National Park Service, the 6th Cavalry Museum and volunteers all working together," she said.