The race begins in MacRae Meadows and gains more than 900 feet in elevation as it climbs Grandfather Mountain, winds through the animal habitats and ends at the Mile High Swinging Bridge.
Proceeds from the race will benefit the otter habitat renovations set to begin in March, including repairs and enhancements to the underwater viewing area.
Jessica Howard of Banner Elk, who holds the women’s course record of 30:13 and was the first female finisher in 2013, said she ran in college and completed two marathons. But the Critter Crawl presented a different challenge.
“I’d never done a 5K straight up a mountain before,” Howard said.
Howard, 23, said the toughest part was seeing the finish from several switchbacks away, but the spectators cheering at the top helped propel her to the end.
“At the end, you’re on top of Grandfather Mountain, and you have that beautiful view. You’ve just run up the mountain, and you have that feeling of accomplishment,” she said.
The 2014 race will begin at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, June 7. To accommodate runners and spectators, the park will end ticket sales at 4 p.m. and close at 5 p.m.
Online registration begins at 12:01 a.m. March 3 at www.grandfather.com and continues through 11:59 p.m. June 4. Same-day registration will be offered if space is available.
The entry fee is $35 per person and includes a disposable timing chip, Critter Crawl T-shirt, one parking pass for the event and a free Grandfather Mountain day pass to be used anytime from June 8 through July 31.
T-shirts are not guaranteed for participants who register after May 28.
The top three male and female finishers will be recognized with awards after the race.
One parking pass is included with race registration. Additional parking passes can be purchased for spectators during online registration or purchased for $10 per vehicle with cash or check during packet pickup.
Spectators may park in designated lots on Grandfather Mountain and MacRae Meadows on a first come, first served basis. Shuttles will be available to transport spectators to and from each parking area, and a schedule will be provided in runner packets.
To register for the Critter Crawl, please visit www.grandfather.com starting March 3. For more information, call (828) 733-2013.
The Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation established to preserve Grandfather Mountain, operate the nature park in the public interest and participate in educational research activities. For more information, call (800) 468-7325 or plan a trip at www.grandfather.com.
(Kellen Short is public relations specialist for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.)