Battle brewing over JFK 50 race use of Appalachian Trail
Runners in the 46th Annual JFK 50 Mile race make their way down the Appalachian Trail near Weverton Road in this 2008 file photo. (File Photo)
Underhill's response last year to the request for 1,500 runners in 2011 and 2,000 in 2012 was a clear no.
"Your growing aspirations for the race render it no longer even remotely compatible with the AT," she wrote in a June email that Shantz shared with The Herald-Mail.
"Given your unwillingness to commit to looking for a more appropriate race course location other than the AT for 2013 and beyond," Underhill wrote, "I see no reason to give further consideration to increasing the number of participants who will be allowed under our permit this year and next. Please be advised that we also will be looking carefully at whether any permits will be issued beyond 2012."
Shantz said Underhill initially denied a permit for the race in 2007, then relented.
The JFK 50 permit for the trail is never a sure thing and, one year, was secured 10 hours before the race began, he said.
It's not clear how long the limit of 1,000 runners has been in place. Underhill said there was no "sound science" behind that number. JFK 50 organizers consider it an arbitrary limit that's preventing the race from growing and meeting public interest.
It wasn't a problem when the fields were in the hundreds, but in 2005, for the first time, race organizers had to reject applicants, according to Shantz.
Even though their permit allows no more than 1,000 runners, JFK 50 organizers regularly allow more than that to register.
According to an email Shantz sent to Terry Lierman, the chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the House minority whip, the starting field was never less than 1,030 from 2005 to 2010.
Four of those six years, more than 1,000 runners finished.
In an email to Shantz, Underhill wrote: "Unfortunately, the terms of past issued permits have been repeatedly breached by the JFK race coordinators during recent races. This non-compliance puts the park resources, park visitors and the race participants at risk."
Spinnler accused Underhill of "nitpicking." He said more than 1,000 people are allowed to register because under a formula of attrition, a certain percentage is bound not to show up and the field usually is right around the 1,000 mark.
However, Shantz and Spinnler said they'll never turn away a member of the military who registers to run.
"Our philosophy is 'without them we don't even have a race' or anything else for that matter," Shantz wrote to Lierman.