Path of the Flood races mark 10th anniversary

When Mark Voelker started the Path of the Flood Historic Races, he thought they would only happen once – but 10 years later, he’s thrilled and humbled by the growth and development of the annual races that draw people from across the country.

This year’s edition of the races will be held Saturday.

“One thing I really appreciate, and what I was hoping for from the very beginning, is how much the community has gotten involved,” he said.

The Johnstown Area Heritage Association and the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority host the races, with all proceeds benefiting the Cambria County trails and the region’s heritage.

This is the second year the races – a 14-miler, an eight- miler, and a 5K – have participants running the current path.

Caytlin Lusk, CCCRA program coordinator, said it was monumental to complete the exact path of the 1889 Johnstown flood last year.

“This was something we wanted to do for many years,” she added.

The 14-mile race starts at the breast of the old South Fork Dam and follows the path of the 1889 flood to downtown Johnstown.

To date, more than 600 people have signed up for the races, with roughly 700 expected Saturday and race-day registration available.

Voelker said the event has maintained its size throughout the years, and he’s been pleased to see the races continue to be popular.

“There are a lot of families that come out, and this is how they kick off Memorial Day weekend,” Lusk said.

All the races start at 8 a.m., and community members are encouraged to find spots along the path to support participants.

A JAHA blog post notes the best places to support runners are in South Fork on Lake, Railroad and Portage streets; Maple Avenue in Woodvale; Main Street in Franklin Borough; Front Street, Beech Hill Road and along the Staple Bend Tunnel trail in Mineral Point; and Clinton, Washington and Walnut streets in downtown Johnstown.

“We really do encourage people to come cheer them on,” said Deb Winterschheidt, JAHA development director and director of membership.

Everything culminates at Peoples Natural Gas Park, 90 Johns St., where the finish line is set up and an afterparty will take place.

Winterscheidt, who organizes the party, said Screech Owl will be playing with the Good Times Ice Cream Bus on-site. There will be complimentary pizza for the runners, along with age- appropriate drinks, and all participants will get a medal and a 10th anniversary pint glass.

Top male and female finishers will be awarded a Center For Metal Arts-made commemorative bottle opener, and those at the top in their age division will receive a metal Stone Bridge replica trophy emblazoned with the Path of the Flood race moniker from Tackett’s Metal Art.

Community members are invited to attend the afterparty as well, Winterscheidt said.

All the organizers commended the volunteers and the committee that puts on the race and festival, noting their appreciation for the hard work.

“We have a really great committee that works together to put this on,” Lusk said.

In addition to the historic races, there are several other local events commemorating the 135th anniversary of the 1889 flood taking place at the end of May.

The first Evening on the Lake presentation, “Objects from the Johnstown Flood,” is set for 7 p.m. May 28 at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial visitors center, 733 Lake Road.

Then, on the anniversary, May 31, the annual luminaria ceremony will take place at the dam abutments from 7 to 10 p.m.

The visitor center will also be open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. that day, and at 4:07 p.m., the time the floodwaters reached Johnstown, park rangers will place a wreath at the abutments on the remains of the dam.

JAHA and the National Park Service are also hosting a bus tour June 1 that will take guests from the South Fork visitors center to the former clubhouse and throughout downtown Johnstown, complete with actors in period clothing.

The U.S. National Guard is putting on an all-day display at the Johnstown Flood Museum, 304 Washington St.

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5054. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.