The Glacier Institute takes the reins of the Le Grizz ultramarathon
On the second Saturday in October, when legendary race director Pat Caffrey pulls the trigger on his ceremonial single-barrel starting shotgun and dozens of shivering racers roll off the start line at the Polebridge Mercantile, where they will return later to inhale loads of chicken and blueberry bear claw fries, the 50-mile Le Grizz Ultramarathon will begin its 41st race under new ownership just down the road.
As is the case with all things The Grizz, however, “just down the road” takes on a distinct meaning.
In this case, that means 15 miles of two-lane gravel leading due south along the North Fork of the Flathead River to the Big Creek Outdoor Education Center, where the Glacier Institute, the educational partner in goal Glacier National Park and Flathead non-profit. National Forest, has run its youth programs since 1983 – just a year younger than the breed it will inherit. With its headquarters based in Columbia Falls, the Glacier Institute has served more than 30,000 children for four decades from the historic North Fork Ranger Station, educating them in environmental stewardship through trips from hiking, orientation, monitoring and winter ecology courses. The programs serve more than 3,300 people each year, including more than 1,500 local children in Big Creek alone.
On October 8, 2022, the Glacier Institute will begin a new chapter in its evolving educational portfolio when it officially accepts the reins of The Grizz 50-Mile Ultramarathon and Relay Race from Polebridge Mercantile and Bakery owner Will Hammerquist. . After taking ownership of The Grizz in 2015, when the course moved from the South Fork to the North Fork, Hammerquist donates the race to the Glacier Institute in hopes of supporting both the race and the organization of nonprofit outdoor education, especially as the North Fork is inundated with new visitors.
“We are thrilled with this transition,” Hammerquist said. “We see the Grizz’s donation to the Glacier Institute as a way to further support local youth and the legendary racing legacy.”
Just as famous for its toughness as it is for its world-renowned handmade blueberry-filled pastries awarded to every finisher, The Grizz enjoys senior status as Montana’s premier 50-mile foot race, as well as the one of the oldest in the world. It has operated continuously since its inception in 1982 by Pat Caffrey, the man holding the starting shotgun. Following the 2021 race, which marked its 40th anniversary, the “Merc” donated the race property to the Glacier Institute with the intention of using the event as a fundraiser for the organization.
“Both the Grizz and Big Creek have significant legacies in the Flathead Valley,” said Anthony Nelson, executive director of the Glacier Institute. “We are extremely grateful to have passed the torch.”
Under its new ownership, the race will contribute to the important work of the Glacier Institute, Nelson said, explaining that the local nonprofit strengthens connections with the natural world through outdoor education, which does not has never been more important as transformative pressures hit the intermountain. the West and the natural resources of the region. Based in Columbia Falls, the Glacier Institute offers year-round outdoor educational programs for children, families, and adults, including nature camps, guided day hikes, and field courses.
All proceeds from the run will directly support Glacier Institute programs in Big Creek, but will also help support Glacier Institute’s efforts to alleviate transportation and congestion issues along the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor, which has become so problematic that visitors must secure a reservation to access the popular Alpine highway.
To help solve the problem, and at the request of park administrators, the Glacier Institute launched its Going-to-the-Sun Road day program last summer, offering guided hikes and shuttling 70 passengers a day. using a fleet of five 14-passenger buses departing from Columbia Falls. The course doubles as a Going-to-the-Sun Road admission ticket, and participants only need a regular park pass to board.
“They get the full Going-to-the-Sun tour,” Nelson said. “We fully recognize that many people come just for the ride, but we can accomplish our mission of making people fall in love with the park.”
Going-to-the-Sun Day participants can take a naturalist-guided hike and have access to interpretive tours at popular park destinations. There are four daily tours, each featuring different hiking abilities, including Hidden Lake Overlook, Highline Trail, Avalanche Lake, and the full Going-to-the-Sun route.
As for the race, it will continue from the Polebridge Mercantile, and many of The Grizz’s core traditions, including the shotgun start, unique prizes, and Merc’s handmade blueberry bear claws for each finisher, will also continue.
In addition to the 50-mile distance, this year will also feature more family-friendly distances, including a 5k and a youth run.
For more information, call the Glacier Institute at (406) 755-1211 or visit runlegrizz.com. Registration information will be released in the coming months.
For more information about the Glacier Institute and how you can help support the nonprofit, visit glacierinstitute.org.