City: Park not reserved for relay

August 26, 2013 10:42 am

Funding issues may halt 2013 race 

With less than a month to go before the Hells Canyon Relay, much is left to be done before the race can end at Pioneer Park.

La Grande City officials said Friday that Hells Canyon Relay organizers have yet to pay outstanding fees from last year and have not paid to reserve Pioneer Park for this year’s event.

In an email sent to city councilors, City Manager Robert Strope said Hells Canyon Relay organizers were told last year they would need to pay outstanding fees before being permitted to use Pioneer Park again for the end of the race.

“The group continues to promote the race with Pioneer Park as the finish line despite not having submitted an event permit request or making contact with the Parks Department,” the email said.

Event organizer Brian Douglass said Smith Rock Race Group LLC, the company that puts on the 210-mile relay, has been dealing with financial challenges since last year’s race.

Hells Canyon Relay is touted as the longest relay in the Americas, but unfortunately for event organizers, only 37 teams participated last year. Organizers budgeted for 65 teams.

“We have maintained an optimistic point of view for the event ever since last year,” Douglass said. 

A radio campaign is underway for the group for the next two weeks. They also have a crowd-funding campaign going with Jumpstarter.

“We will make a decision on the 2013 event after Labor Day but believe that we have a good chance to be successful,” Douglass said.

The City of La Grande is not the only entity seeking payment from last year’s event. Unpaid invoices from 2012 totaled about $45,000.

Douglass said the rural Eastern Oregon event has been difficult to market.

“Cities have large sponsorship opportunities,” he said. “We knew that, probably, sponsorships from companies would be limited, and also because they’re hit every day.”

It was also late in 2012 when the company found some public monies available,” Douglass said.

Douglass said the Hells Canyon Relay brought 500 people to Pioneer Park last year, raised $24,000 for nonprofits and helped deliver almost 600 pounds of food to food banks.

“We think we did a pretty effective job for our first year event,” he said. “It has great potential in the out years, we think, or we wouldn’t have come and spent all the time and effort.”

Douglass said the Jumpstarter program offers a return on investments within five years. Annual interest rates range from 3 to 8 percent.

“Right now we’re tapped and we really need some help if this is something the community also believes is valuable,” Douglass said.

However, if the funding does not come through for the Sept. 20-21 event, the Hells Canyon Relay won’t just disappear.

“We’re not going to pack up our bags and leave town,” Douglass said. “We will absolutely be back in 2014.”

Strope said there is not a deadline on when Pioneer Park can be paid for and reserved, though there is a process that organizers must go through to ensure use of the park.

Contact Kelly Ducote at 541-786-4230 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Kelly on Twitter @lgoDucote.