GRANDFATHER MOUNTAIN, N.C. – Over 60 runners lined up at the base of Grandfather Mountain May 23 to participate in the Critter Crawl: a 5K race from MacRae Meadows to the summit of the nature attraction.
The race started in beautiful weather but dark clouds were quickly threatening from the west. As the runners were making their 900 foot elevation climb, Stewardship Foundation employees were scurrying around the finish line to secure items getting blown by the fierce wind. Many runners did cross the finish line before the rain started and the winds became even greater.
With a commanding lead, the first place participant was Ethien Arboleda of Flat Rock, NC. Arboleda, 15 years old, is a student at Fletcher Academy and finished with a time of 22 minutes and 31 seconds. He was a day-of registrant for the race and came up with a friend after seeing information on the Internet and deciding it would be neat to run up Grandfather Mountain. The record time for the Critter Crawl still stands at 21 minutes and 29.9 seconds, set by Jason Bryant during last year's inaugural run.
David Saulsbury of Burnsville, NC was the second to finish. Saulsbury is 17 years old and also placed second in the race last year. Along with many other runners, he stated that the last hill to the finish line is the hardest part of the race. He finished with a time of 24 minutes and 36 seconds.
Third place went to Chris Squires, a 47-year-old engineer from Raleigh, NC. Squires has participated in The Highland Games Bear Run in the past, a 5-mile race that starts in Linville, NC and takes a similar course up Grandfather. He said that he enjoyed the route of the Critter Crawl and the changes from the course of The Bear, notably the run around the Woods Walk picnic area and through the animal habitats. Squires' time was 25 minutes and 42 seconds.
Finishing first of the female participants and seventh overall was Jessica Smith. Smith, 22, lives in Banner Elk, NC and works at the YMCA and Diamond Creek. Smith finished with a time of 30 minutes and 13 seconds and loved the scenic aspect of the run. This is a new record for women competing in the event. The previous record was 32 minutes and 34.7 seconds set last year by Hannah Wheeler.
The cause of the race was important for the second place female finisher Carol Cook. "Runners choose what races they want to participate in based on the cause," said Cook. "It was incredible to be able to run by the new eagle habitat and two bald eagles and know that the race registration supported it." Cook, 44, is from Boone, NC and finished sixteenth overall with a time of 33 minutes and 32 seconds.
Heather Price of Charlotte, NC finished third for the women and 23rd overall. Price, a 40-year-old stay-at-home mom, enjoyed seeing all the pink-shell azalea blooming along the course. She finished with a time of 35 minutes and 43 seconds.
Winners received trophies to commemorate their effort, passes for Behind the Scenes Habitat Tours and a monetary prize donated to the Stewardship Foundation by a generous donor.
All proceeds from the race go toward the Eagle Habitat Renovation Fund. The new eagle habitat on Grandfather Mountain was completed in late April and two new bald eagles, Griffin and Isis, moved in May 1.
The Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation established to preserve Grandfather Mountain, operate the nature park sustainably in the public interest, provide an exceptional experience for guests, and inspire them to be good stewards of the earth’s resources. For more information, visit www.grandfather.com or call 800-468-7325.