In the early hours of a holiday dedicated to celebrating America’s homeland, 15 people pulled into Sandsage Bison Range and Wildlife Area to walk and run through the prairie.
Wednesday's run was the range’s first 5K on the property, a Fourth of July event appropriately dubbed the “Bison Stampede.” The entry and optional T-shirt fees would benefit the Friends of Sandsage Bison Range organization, specifically for supplies and upkeep of vehicles used for public tours of the property, said Sarah Zukoff, event coordinator for the Friends of Sandsage Bison Range.
But the event was more than a fundraiser, she said. It was a chance to introduce locals to a corner of their community they might be missing.
We were thinking of a way to get the public out to the bison range, and this was kind of a perfect day to do it…” she said. “Hopefully they get to see another aspect of Garden City that they usually don’t get to see.”
For safety reasons, the bison themselves were moved to a separate pasture, Zukoff said, but participants had a chance of running into other regional wildlife: foxes and box turtles, butterflies and other insects, and snakes.
“I’m worried about snakes,” said Patty Knoll, a 5K participant from Garden City.
Her friend, Karen Burrows, piped up.
“Yeah, we’re all worried about the snakes,” she said.
For Knoll, Burrows and their friends Stacey King and Meghan Huber, the event was a welcome spin on a standard race or run. Burrows and Huber had toured the property before, but it was all new to Knoll and King.
“I’m always looking for different, interesting places to run and see, and this is definitely different,” Knoll said.
King, who lives in Satanta but grew up in Garden City, said she probably would never have made it out to the range if it weren’t for the 5K, and she was glad for the opportunity. Knoll said she drove by the area often but had never seen the range personally.
Mark Singhisen, a Garden City resident for 35 years, also saw the property for the first time during the 5K. A history buff who had once excavated bison on an archaeological dig in Oklahoma, he said he was glad to get a first-hand look at the bison range in his own backyard.
He also hoped the morning would kickstart his involvement with the Friends of Sandsage. He signed up as a member before the run and said he was eager to help in whatever way the group needed. As for the run itself, the hiker said he expected to be last, but wasn’t concerned.
“(I came) to see if I still got it,” Singhisen said.
The 5K would usher in younger competitors too. Rylan Anderson, a 13-year-old member of the Kenneth Henderson Middle School track and field team, finished his first non-school running event. When two women, Carrie Hall and Ellie Kennedy, were asked how they heard about the event, they immediately nodded to their friend, cross country runner Hannah Roemer.
“From Hannah,” they said together.
Kennedy had been to the range before, but Hall hadn’t. When asked why they chose to spend their morning off running in a pasture, they turned to Roemer again.
As the 8:30 a.m. start neared, the participants gathered by the starting line while District Wildlife Biologist Kurtis Meier briefed them on what to look out for on the trail. Keep an eye on the signs, watch out for snakes, and don’t trample the turtles, he said. And then the runners took off, jogging and walking into the sand and wildflowers.
The trail turned out to be a challenging one, so said the runners. Roemer said she had run trails for her cross country team, but not like the one on the prairie. The hills and loose, sand trail called for more energy, she said, and she had to pick her knees up while dodging cacti and turtles. It was hard, she said, but she did it.
Roemer came out first, completing the run in 24 minutes and 36 seconds. Participant Trevor Ahring was close behind at 24:41. Kevin Thompson earned third place at 27:16. Anderson was the top and only youth competitor, finishing in 38:49.
The participants gathered for an informal awards ceremony after most had completed the run, giving medals to Roemer, Ahring, Thompson and Anderson, small stuffed bison to all who had dressed patriotically and participation certificates and small range keepsakes to everyone. Roemer also won a free, special guided tour of the range with two wildlife biologists for her and three friends.
Participants like Burrows, King and Roger Unruh said they enjoyed the morning, with King praising the course as different, challenging and great for runners.
“It’s a real fun deal,” Unruh said. “A lot of people are going to be sad they missed it.”
Zukoff said she was pleased with the turnout and response and that the event raised $285. The range will continue to host tours over the coming weeks and hold a stargazing night later in the summer, she said. She said the Friends of Sandsage Facebook page was the best place to keep up with any events.
As for whether the group will hold another 5K next year, the details are still coming together, she said. When asked, she turned to Tom Norman, the range’s property manager.
“What do you think? We going to do this next year?” she said.
Norman glaced back.
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported Sarah Zukoff's name.