WILLINGTON — Plans for a “zombie-featured” 5K expected to attract nearly 5,000 runners to Willington were foiled when the event’s parent company withdrew its permit requests Thursday after getting pushback from local officials.
The Run For Your Lives race, which is presented by Reed Street Productions and ProjectSole, was expected to take place July 27 at the Wilderness Lake campground in Willington with runners from all over New England. Instead, it will take place at Hobby Horse Farms in Rehoboth, Mass.
The event divides participants into two categories: runners and zombies. The “zombies” receive a gory makeover and chase runners through a 5K and obstacle course attempting to capture flags worn around runners’ belts. If runners finish the race with at least one of their two “life” flags intact, they are deemed “survivors.”
The event also would include an “Apocalypse Party,” an “all-day celebration” that features live music, food, and games. Participants can also opt to camp overnight on the grounds after the event.
Reed Street Productions organized 12 zombie runs around the country last year and have 20 more planned this year. Ray Crossen, the owner of Wilderness Lake campground, said that when Reed Street and ProjectSole approached him about hosting an event in Willington, he was excited to make it happen.
“We truly believed it would be a benefit to the town,” Crossen said in a phone interview Thursday. “Over the last six months I’ve dedicated an awful lot of time to it with the hopes that it would be something fun for the entire town.”
However, according to Crossen, plans fell apart when they ran into issues securing the permits necessary to make the event happen.
The Willington Planning and Zoning Commission approved a one-day liquor license for the event earlier this month. Runners and zombies who are 21 are each given a free beer when they finish the race. But it was the special “festival-hosting” permit that was a little more difficult to obtain.
The commission denied that permit request and a public hearing was scheduled with the Willington Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday.
However, a week before the hearing, ProjectSole President Joron Wilson received a letter from Willington First Selectwoman Christina Mailhos enumerating a lengthy list of conditions the coordinators would have to meet in order to receive a permit.
On June 26, Production Vice President of Operations Mark Henry sent Crossen an email saying they had decided to move the event to Massachusetts. Henry said Mailhos’s letter was the “catalyst” for the decision to move the event to Massachusetts.
“The Town of Willington has killed this event with a process unlike any other we’ve seen in the 20 plus communities we work with around the country,” Henry’s email reads.
Mailhos wrote in her letter that parking and security were major concerns.
“One major area of concern is the fact that no specific permits are being sought for the parking site . . .” the letter reads. “Another area of concern is that to our knowledge, the Connecticut State Police (Troop C) and [the department of transportation] have not been contacted in regards to traffic or site safety planning.”
The letter continues with a list of requirements Mailhos would be asking the zoning board of appeals to stipulate should they approve the permit request.
Among the Mailhos’s requirements that Henry said were breaking points for Reed Street:
—Detailed parking, security and traffic control plans approved by the Connecticut State Police, the Local Traffic Authority, and the Department of Transportation;
—Noise and sound attenuators and light shields on light fixtures, and;
—Approval from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Dam Safety regarding temporary stressors on an earthen dam, with a $5,000 bond to cover any damage.
Henry added that permits were secured for the event in Rehoboth, Mass. in three weeks, and the town “apologized that it took so long.”
“They were really absolutely very clear that they didn’t want the event,” Crossen said of the Willington officials.
Willington Selectman John Blessington said he had concerns about the volume of visitors and the impact it would have on the town’s residents.
“This is a town with 6,000 people,” Blessington said. “I heard everything from 5,000 to 11,000 people [attending], and that’s a tremendous amount of people to move in and out of the town in one day.”
But Reed Street Productions spokesperson Lauren Gambler said that about 4,900 participants have signed up for the New England race, and runners have staggered start times in order to control traffic.
“Races start in 30 minute increments,” Gambler said. “And we really encourage everyone to carpool. It costs $10 to park.”
But Blessington said the town’s infrastructure wouldn’t support heavy traffic.
“These roads are designed to have maybe 100 or 200 cars a day tops,” Blessington said Thursday in a phone interview.
Blessington added that he felt the event planners should have brought the request before the commission sooner.
“It usually takes a meeting, a public hearing, and time to think about it for the boards that are doing this, and this is an event planned for a month from [Thursday],” he said.
Crossen and Alyssa Omlie, a senior event coordinator at Reed Street, attended the planning and zoning commission’s April 2 meeting, but were met with immediate pushback from public officials and a couple of residents.
“We were just unprepared for this type of endeavor,” Henry’s email to Crossen reads. “We throw events, and obviously are not adept at navigating a complicated zoning application process.”
Crossen said he blames the local government for pushing out an event that could benefit the community and local businesses.
“Unfortunately we have town officials that are more in tune with how little work they can do than actually stepping up to the plate and asking ‘How do we make this work?’” he said.
Reed Street donates to charities with the proceeds and, according to Gambler, donated more $250,000 to the Red Cross last year. This year, they will reportedly donate to Kennedy Krieger Institute. ProjectSole is also a nonprofit organization that uses shoe drives to raise money and distribute footwear to impoverished communities around the world.
“These are good events and its a shame that some people don’t see it as that,” Crossen said.
The Rehoboth, Mass. event will take place on the planned date of July 27, but camping overnight will not be permitted. The Run For Your Life planners are issuing refunds to participants who purchased camping passes.