SALEM — Can a city have too many road races?
This question has been posed by the Salem City Council, which is looking to find out exactly how many road races the Witch City hosts each year and who keeps track of them.
Meanwhile, two road races that were up for approval at last week's council meeting have been put on hold until councilors hash out their concerns.
"There's no intent to try to eliminate road races. It's how we manage them," said Councilor Robert McCarthy, who brought up the issue. "It all has to do with the volume and number of road races that we've had come into Salem ... (and) how do we control them and spread them out in such a way that it works."
In recent years, the number of road races in Salem has "boomed" from a handful to more than 15, McCarthy said.
A master calendar or some other type of oversight is needed to keep track of all the races, he said, especially for the sake of the City Council, which must approve each race.
The council briefly discussed the issue last Thursday and sent it to the Committee on Public Health, Safety and the Environment, which does not meet this week.
The discussion comes after Salem was designated a "runner-friendly community" by the Road Runners Club of America last fall. At the time, the club said it selected Salem for the title because of its infrastructure and support from the community and local government.
Salem hosts 16 road races of varying distances throughout the year, including a Halloween race, where participants run in costume, and the annual Wild Turkey Race, which draws more than 1,500 runners on Thanksgiving.
There are several more new races that could increase that total, said Doug Bollen, the city's director of parks, recreation and community services. October has the most races — three — and the remainder are spread out over the rest of the year.
Bollen, who directs the Salem Road Race Series and is one of the founders of the Salem-based Wicked Running Club, said he agrees with McCarthy about a master calendar.
"While (races) are great for the city in so many ways, I do think we need a central registry and (should be) thinking about how many the city could and should accommodate," Bollen said. "We need smart growth. ... I don't want to see races wear out their welcome."
Most of Salem's races raise money for charity and bring spectators, commerce and tourism dollars to the city.
On the other hand, a majority of the races, probably 13 or 14, use similar routes and pass through the Salem Willows area, Bollen said. This means the same neighborhoods are repeatedly burdened with the road closures and disruptions that come with road races, he said.
The Willows area falls within Ward 1, which McCarthy represents.
Before a road race comes before the City Council for approval, the Police Department checks the route for safety and ensures the event will have enough police details to handle road closures. The Parks and Recreation Department will also get notification about a race if it starts or ends in a park, Bollen said.
McCarthy expressed a little discomfort with having to approve races without knowing if there is another race already on the books for that same weekend or area of town.
"We need to make sure we're not doubling up," he said. "I'm not anti-road race. ... I'm not sure if we have too many or not. What I am sure of is we need to pay attention to how they come into Salem (scheduling)."
Bollen, along with the YMCA, Salem State University and other groups that sponsor races, will be invited to the next meeting of the Committee on Public Health, Safety and the Environment, McCarthy said.
The committee will consider the issue and make a recommendation to the full City Council.
Staff writer Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.