The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 8, 2014

Marathon will trace path of 1889 flood

JOHNSTOWN — The Johnstown Area Heritage Association is seeking participants for its Path of the Flood Historic Half Marathon and 5K race.

The once-in-a-lifetime event, which commemorates the 125th anniversary of the Johnstown flood, is scheduled to step off at 9 a.m. June 1.

Avid runner Mark Voelker of Westmont, event coordinator and retired Marine helicopter pilot, got the idea of conducting a race to follow the flood’s path when he was stationed at the Johnstown/Cambria County Airport.

“You get an entirely different perspective of the flood’s path from the air,” he said. “I proposed the idea to JAHA some time ago and they contacted me to help arrange the anniversary event.”

The half-marathon participants will be challenged by a rolling hybrid road and gravel trail course that follows the Conemaugh River, offering expansive views of the gorge and showcasing newly completed portions of the trail.

Runners also will pass through the National Park Service’s Staple Bend Tunnel, the first railroad tunnel constructed in the United States.

“We will be starting the race as close as we can near the headwaters of the flood,” Voelker said. “The closest access will be at Frankstown and Rockville roads in Croyle Township.”

The 5K course runs along the last 3.1 miles of the flood’s path, on the same route as the half-marathon. This route begins in Franklin Borough and will remain on roads to the finish.

The finish line for each race is Peoples Natural Gas Park, which is adjacent to the Stone Bridge.

The bridge played a key role in the disaster as countless people were caught in the flood debris and perished when it later caught fire.

Runners are asked to wear blue or green, the colors of water, in keeping with the race’s theme.

Race fees are $50 for half-marathon participants and $25 for 5K participants.

Children and teenagers 18 years and younger may participate in the 5K free of charge.

“We are expecting as many as 500 participants in both races,” said Voelker.

The purpose of the race is two-fold.

“We want to raise awareness of the path of the floodwater, plus we want to encourage physical fitness, especially in youngsters,” Voelker said. “The practice of allowing youngsters to participate free has been successful for some other races that I have been a part of and it should have similar results here.”

He expects at least 200 young people to take part in the 5K.

The registration deadline is April 30.

All participants will leave and finish at Peoples Natural Gas Park at 90 Johns St., downtown Johnstown.

Participants will be bused to each starting point beginning at 7 a.m. for marathon competitors and 9 a.m. for 5K participants.

“The bulk of the proceeds from race entries will be used to pay for the shuttle buses, which cost $195 each to operate,” Voelker said.

A post-race celebration begins at 10 a.m. at the park with an award ceremony to follow as soon as results are compiled.

Registration is available on www.active.com and www.johnstown125.com.

In addition to the Path of the Flood races, a full slate of special events commemorating the anniversary will be presented over Memorial Day weekend at a variety of venues, including the Johnstown Flood Museum, Peoples Natural Gas Park and Johnstown Flood National Memorial.

Highlights include a presentation of a requiem, a commemoration ceremony at the moment the flood hit Johnstown, the luminaria at the dam site and a Community Day at Peoples Natural Gas Park.

Tom Lavis covers Features for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter.com/Tom LavisTD.

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