More than 200 people gathered at historic South Pass City on Sept. 28 for running races of varying distances through the northern Red Desert and to celebrate the first annual Wyoming Public Lands Day.
In an appropriate nod to what it often takes to enjoy Wyoming’s rugged public lands, the 162 runners and more celebrants braved the threat of a severe winter storm. The storm, in the end, snowed on the mountains but largely spared the gathering.
Still, climate was a factor, particularly for the seven runners of the roughly 56-mile ultrarun, who started their race before daylight in a downpour of cold rain. Race organizers shortened the ultramarathon, originally planned at around 75 miles, due to weather concerns.
Runners of the half and full marathons had better luck with the weather. That luck increased as runners approached the finish line on the edge of “town” — a row of historic buildings that memorialize the once-bustling gold mining community and Oregon Trail waypoint. Low clouds and persistent fog cleared to reveal aspen trees aflame with fall foliage.
After the races, attendees celebrated Wyoming’s public lands with music and speeches, said event organizer Shaleas Harrison of the Wyoming Wilderness Association, which put on the event along with the National Outdoor Leadership School and the Wyoming Outdoor Council. Attendees celebrated Wyoming Public Lands Day — the result of a bill passed into law during the most recent legislative session — with drumming performed by the Big Wind Singers of Crowheart, music by the Low Water String Band of Lander and piano by biologist, naturalist and Red Desert resident John Mionczynski. He tickled the ivories and played accordion into the evening, Harrison said.
Clare Gallagher, a renowned endurance athlete and runner, spoke to the crowd about the importance of having lands like the Red Desert to run through and connect to, Harrison said. Celebrants also heard speeches from local and tribal public lands advocates including Jason Baldes, an Eastern Shoshone member working to restore a wild bison population on the Wind River Indian Reservation, and Andi Clifford, a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe serving in Wyoming’s House of Representatives.
“It’s really cool that so many people of different interests gathered with a shared appreciation for the Red Desert and public lands,” Harrison said. Some 70 racers signed their name to postcards asking Gov. Mark Gordon to protect migration corridors and the landscape’s connectivity, Harrison said.