Striders track project continues moving toward starting blocks
The High Sierra Striders have done an admirable job keeping local government from interfering much in the planning and design of their Whitmore Track project, a 400m running track and outdoor training facility planned for construction adjacent to the Whitmore ball fields off of U.S. 395. But, sooner or later, government was bound to weigh in. After all, planners must plan. During Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting, Striders members Elaine and Jim Smith, and founder Andrew Kastor briefed the Supes on the latest regarding the Whitmore project. They also brought along Town of Mammoth Lakes Public Works Director Ray Jarvis to give a warmup on the local government involvement which will occur later in the race to build the track.
The Striders are arguably on something of a winning streak. In addition to keeping the Whitmore project on pace, the organization just ran another successful Footloose Freedom Mile on July 4. Approximately 350 runners entered, marking a second straight year of record attendance. The Striders will also produce the upcoming Charthouse 5k/10k in August, and have planned a first-ever Ultra Marathon 25k/35k at Mammoth Mountain on Sept. 18.
Smith showed Board members the architectural renderings of the new facility, provided some background on its history and then talked about its future, which (assuming it goes the distance) is already attracting international attention. Japanese sports consultants recently toured the location and Smith told the Board they found it “above and beyond” other training sites they’ve looked at.
They may or may not come to train in the Eastern Sierra without the Whitmore track site, but all indications are they will certainly come here to use the facility once it’s ready. Other sports are eyeing Whitmore as well. Soccer camps, citing one example, are already lining up to schedule time on the infield.
Ironically, according to Smith, the economic downturn has meant that the project’s overall cost went down slightly, enabling the project to trim back its projected funding goals. Measure R funding, as well as corporate and private donors, will partner in backing construction of the track facility, which currently is running at a little less than its original $4 million estimated price tag.
Kastor said the track and ones like it typically have a 10-12 year life span, but Whitmore’s could last longer. Snow cover in winter actually cuts down UV damage, he explained. He went on to add that the track will have a more consistent surface, which will be a boon to all athletes, but especially to budding ones, such as former Mammoth High School (and now USC Trojan) track star Melissa Margulies. She recently finished 2nd in the Pac-10 conference in 100m, 200m, 400m and the long jump. Kastor, her coach, expects Margulies and other athletes to elevate their training considerably with access to state of the art surfaces and amenities the track would provide.
Here’s where government laces up its track shoes. The Striders and their mostly private-sector associates may be doing the fundraising, but according to Jarvis, maintenance will be a Town of Mammoth Lakes responsibility, listed in the budget as a “capital improvement project.
The Town technically controls the 23-acre ball field complex on which the track site will exist. Jarvis said the Town currently has a lease with Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) thorough 2015, and a new 25-year lease is currently being discussed. Meanwhile, the Town and Mono County have a joint “understanding” as to maintaining the ball fields.
That “understanding” drew some criticism from Supervisor Hap Hazard, who pointed out that Mono County spends $100,000 annually on the ball fields, which are not actually open to the public. (Baseball has exclusive control over the ball fields, to the exclusion of soccer teams that have been shut out of playing or practicing there.) Hazard said that he has no problem with the Whitmore project, but would like to see a “clear determination and clear details” as to the County’s relationship would be, opining that perhaps the County would rather spend the $100,000 elsewhere if the Town’s going to fully manage the site.
Other issues the Board posed to Jarvis for consideration included such topics as night lighting, which it was suggested might also be a source of sensitivity for nearby communities that have night sky ordinances. Also, maintenance may need to consider blowers and vacuums, not for snow, but for dirt and other debris that will blow onto the track with the windy conditions commonly found in that area.
A receptive Jarvis took note of all the discussion items and Board concerns, and said he’d like to come back to the Board soon with a more Town-County detail, and other information that would address various and sundry details.
Meanwhile, all the supervisors said they found the project most impressive, especially Bob Peters and Chair Byng Hunt, who both marveled at and praised the Striders and their plans.
Smith said the Striders ideally envision the track and infield to be built next summer. Cost for that phase: roughly $1.75 million. In addition to money, donations of in-kind services have come from Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, and local businessman Steve Klassen, a former pole-vaulter, who has donated pole vault equipment to the facility.
Kastor said the estimated total cost of not quite $4 million is “all in, including the trail system, parking lot, the building … the whole nine yards.” A precise idea of how much the true figures really are will come once the project goes out for bid. Smith said that could happen perhaps by the first of next year, but depends on how fast the various processes (i.e. LADWP’s) are completed.