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Race path for upcoming Morro Bay Ironman is still up in the air 

With the Ironman triathlon set to return to Morro Bay in less than a month, the event is still working to finalize its running course, aiming to tread a path through Morro Bay State Park.

"This is an important part of this run course to make this event what we envisioned in our eyes as successful for a lot of different reasons," Police Chief Amy Watkins told the Morro Bay City Council during its April 23 meeting. "We just haven't really gotten anywhere."

Although plans for the triathlon initially charted a running course through the state park, those plans changed last year about three months prior to the city's inaugural Ironman race, according to Visit Morro Bay Executive Director Michael Wambolt, who also spoke at the meeting. At that time, Morro Bay State Park gave Ironman the estimated cost for a permit, which was much higher than expected, Wambolt said.

click to enlarge COURSE CORRECTION Visit Morro Bay, Morro Bay, and the Ironman event are aiming to chart a run course through Morro Bay State Park for the upcoming race on May 19. In the first Morro Bay Ironman event, the running portion of the triathlon consisted of three loops through the Embarcadero. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • COURSE CORRECTION Visit Morro Bay, Morro Bay, and the Ironman event are aiming to chart a run course through Morro Bay State Park for the upcoming race on May 19. In the first Morro Bay Ironman event, the running portion of the triathlon consisted of three loops through the Embarcadero.

This year's permit cost estimate, according to the city staff report, is set at $31,000. Ironman has asked for help with the permit cost, and Visit Morro Bay agreed to contribute, City Manager Yvonne Kimball said during the meeting. The tourism organization also asked the city to consider issuing a statement in support of its negotiation efforts with State Parks, which the City Council voted 4-0 to do (with Councilmember Jen Ford abstaining).

"Visit Morro Bay can help, perhaps, Ironman to negotiate the state park's fee a little lower," Kimball said.

Watkins called the price tag "exorbitant."

"They use other state parks up and down California, and this was beyond anything that they had paid to date, so obviously, this would set a precedent," Watkins said of Ironman.

Wambolt added that the fee was calculated to include emergency costs but that the larger portion of it was based on the estimated impact to state park guests.

"It seems to be a sticking point," he said.

Instead of using the state park in 2023, the running portion of the Ironman looped through the Embarcadero three times, something the Ironman, city, and Visit Morro Bay hope to avoid this year. It negatively impacted some retail businesses and restaurants in the area, according to complaints from Embarcadero business proprietors after the event.

"A few issues with design emerged, including prolonged time for spectators remaining on sidewalks to watch their athletes, which in turn affected retail and restaurants' ability to profit during the race and put additional burden on city's public safety team," the staff report states.

It was also difficult for race participants, Councilmember Cyndee Edwards said.

"It was hard for athletes to even know if they'd done all the loops," Edwards said. "I see the importance of having a more straight course."

Not just straighter, but more scenic, Wambolt told New Times. Running through Morro Bay State Park would give race participants and spectators more of an opportunity to experience the full spectrum of what Morro Bay has to offer. It would also free up the Embarcadero earlier in the day, around noon instead of 4 p.m.

"Really, on the racers side of things, inclusion of state parks and going through there is gorgeous," he said. "We want to help Ironman, but more or less help the city, to make sure the race sees its potential."

With the second Morro Bay Ironman race coming up on Sunday, May 19, Wambolt said they're hoping for resolution on the issue before the beginning of May. He told City Council that Visit Morro Bay had reached out to Assemblymember Dawn Addis (D-San Luis Obispo) to get her engaged in the conversation "to hopefully make this work for everybody."

And that's really the goal for Visit Morro Bay—to maintain a close, ongoing working relationship with Morro Bay State Park, to help the downtown businesses stay open for more tourism opportunities, and to help facilitate a second Ironman event that's even better than the first, he told New Times. Learning from last year, the event was moved from Saturday to Sunday, it added an Iron Kids event at Cloisters Park on the Saturday before the race, and it hopes to run a racecourse through the state park.

"That's what we're all working to, working together to make sure that happens," he said. Δ

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