The annual Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon is one association-sponsored event that serves as a model for successful economic impact, according to association members. The marathon is held the second Saturday in November. The race begins and ends at the 6th Cavalry Museum and winds through Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
Last November the race drew close to 1,500 runners plus their families and friends and brought in more than $100,000 in a single weekend, according to race director Jenni Berz. Berz updated association members on the 2011 marathon results and discussed plans for this year’s race during a regular tourism association meeting on Feb. 15 at the 6th Cavalry Museum in Fort Oglethorpe. The marathon is organized and hosted by the Chattanooga Track Club.
Berz told the group that 2,656 people participated in the event last year. She broke the total down into numbers of runners — 551 women, 597 men and 153 juniors; 330 volunteers, approximately 975 spectators and 50 vendors.
Last year runners from 32 states registered for the marathon, Berz said, with 84 percent of the marathon runners and 59 percent of the half-marathon registrants coming to Fort Oglethorpe from more than 50 miles away. The greatest number of race participants came from the Southeastern cities of Atlanta, Nashville, Birmingham, Knoxville and Charlotte, she said.
Berz and association members agreed the marathon’s continued success depends on the joint support of the association, the National Park Service and the 6th Calvary Museum, as well as area hotels, restaurants, stores and other businesses accommodating race participants and spectators.
Berz said last year’s race start was delayed in part because of unexpected vehicular congestion on Barnhardt Circle. She said there also was confusion over a separate start time for wheelchair-bound marathon participants. She assured association members the track club has smoothed out wrinkles in scheduling to avoid any delays on Nov. 10, the date set for this year’s marathon.
Berz said the track club does not want to take the success of the event for granted, and has ramped up its promotion of the marathon by advertising the race in national runner magazines and sending registration information to more potential participants. The club also plans to use social media to communicate with race registrants.
“We’re getting competition on the front end of our race and the back end of our race,” Berz said. “We’re at the turning point where we’ll have to start marketing a little bit differently.”
Association members offered suggestions on how the event could be improved this year and next. They recommended tying the marathon into the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in 2013.
Association member Gerry Depken proposed commemorating both the race and the Civil War’s 150th anniversary on winners’ medals. Depken added more costumed Civil War re-enactors could volunteer at race drink stations, for example.
“We would love to do something special for 2013,” Berz said.
Some association members shared problems they face each year prior to the event.
Local Super 8 motel owner Dave Patel said each year at marathon time he faces such problems as race registrants who reserve rooms and then don’t show for the event. Berz said the club could inform race registrants via social media to be mindful of reservation policies with area hotels and motels. Or, if one runner cannot participate perhaps they could give their room to another marathon registrant, she said.
The group also discussed adding events and activities, such as using marathon shuttle buses for history tours, to entice runners and their families to visit an extra day or two after the race.
“The goal here is to get them to stay longer,” said Kim Coons with the national park service.
Association member and 6th Cavalry Museum executive director Chris McKeever said the group received an 18 percent increase in its hotel/motel tax proceeds from October-November 2011.
“We did better than the state of Georgia,” she said. “The state was up eight percent (in hotel/motel tax revenue) in 2011.”
McKeever said this was in part due to the April 2011 tornado. Many insurance companies paid for area homeowners to stay in hotels while their homes were assessed for damages, according to Patel.
The association also discussed efforts to increase its membership and produce a Scenic Hometown Highway map. This map will illustrate the length of Highway 27, and indicate where attractions and historical places from Summerville on the south end of the highway to Rossville on the north are located. There are spaces on the back of the map for area sponsors to advertise, McKeever said.
Last year the association published an Exit 350 travel guide and updated its association membership brochure.
For more information, call 706-861-2860 or go to fortotourism.org.