The following piece was written by W. Lee Wilhelm III, Chair of Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge. It was originally published as a commentary in The Roanoke Times.
On June 7th, 2020, the Carilion Clinic IRONMAN 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge will bring over 2,500 elite athletes with thousands of supporters from around the globe to compete in this inaugural IRONMAN event. This sports event will be one of the world’s most challenging triathlons and will make history in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
Hosting the Carilion Clinic Ironman 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge is already a region-wide collaborative effort. Over 1,000 volunteers must be recruited to make this globally-recognized event a success. This is more than just a sports event. It is truly an effort to put the entire Virginia’s Blue Ridge region on the map for sports tourism, workforce development, economic development and so much more.
The community has been working closely with the Ironman team to help organize their best event yet in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. It is essential that our visiting athletes not only have a challenging course, but also a safe course to experience. Currently, the 56-mile bike route options are very limited with the best alternative leading all athletes to cross four lanes of traffic on U.S. 460. Organizers have struggled to identify a strong bike course option until considering the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway. The parkway offers both safety and an uphill challenge as well as beauty, uniqueness and so much more – a perfect course for competing athletes.
Local organizers have concluded that the ideal route would incorporate briefly closing 20 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Route 43 near Buchanan to Route 24 in Vinton for approximately six hours from 6:30am – 1:30pm. A Special Use Permit has been submitted to the National Park Service (NPS), who is now seeking public comment to help approve this request.
It is crucial that the community show their support by commenting directly to the NPS public online forum by Friday, Nov. 22nd. Acquiring this special permit from the NPS would further align Ironman’s growth potential and elevate Virginia’s Blue Ridge as a destination and a welcoming community. The 56-mile bike route is the largest and final piece needed to complete Ironman 70.3 course. Once this is determined, athletes will come early and often to start training on segments of the announced course.
During 2019, the Ironman organization has or will host 230 events in over 50 countries. They have an international reputation recognized around the world. They’re efficient and experienced professionals who understand the logistics of a race. It is important as a host destination to stand out from other Ironman events, and Virginia’s Blue Ridge is ready to do this. Ironman chose Virginia’s Blue Ridge because of the community’s willingness to raise the bar. We will give over 2,500 elite athletes from around the globe a chance to compete on a track unlike any other in the world.
What better way to stand out than to allow people from around the world to experience the Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s Favorite Drive, on two wheels during the inaugural Carilion Clinic Ironman Virginia’s Blue Ridge this coming June?
Please provide your support by going to: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=355&projectID=91400&documentID=99317
Thank you for being part of our history in Virginia’s Blue Ridge!