OC Marathon course changed to protect endangered birds

The 2011 OC Marathon course will not use Back Bay Drive in order to protect endangered birds that live there, a race spokesman said Tuesday.

Marathon organizers have eliminated the road that hugs the eastern shore of Upper Newport Bay in response to concerns raised by the U.S. Department of Fish and Game about the welfare of endangered species of birds that inhabit the area. These include the light-footed clapper rail and the California gnatcatcher.

"There were concerns that introducing 10,000 or 12,000 people into the environment would not be a good thing for the birds," said Race Director Gary Kutscher.

Fish and Game officials had also raised concerns about the potential noise made by race cheer stations and water cups littering the race course, Kutscher said.

"We have hundreds of great volunteers who come by and pick up all the trash — sometimes even leaving a place cleaner than it was before," he said.

The new route also allows for more water and cheer stations, which makes the race safer and more enjoyable for the runners, Kutscher said.

In the 2009 and 2010 OC Marathons, runners doubled-back over the bridge on East Coast Highway and ran up Back Bay Drive. This year, runners will cross the East Coast Highway bridge and continue up Dover Drive, he said.

According to a news release issued Tuesday, the course will retain its scenic beauty during the Newport stage by having the runners climb at Mile 6.5 toward the bluffs overlooking the Back Bay. The course covers parts of Newport Beach, Irvine, Santa Ana and Costa Mesa.

Other race course changes, including a new start line at Newport Center Drive in front of the Newport Beach Marriott hotel, instead of at Farallon Drive, will be available to view online in the next few days at the OC Marathon website.

"Overall, I'm disappointed to have to do it," Kutscher said. "But I believe it's an absolutely better course and it allows us to grow for future years."

Nine thousand runners participated in the 2010 full- and half-marathon. This year, 12,000 runners are expected.

Kutscher said that he'd like to see the race stay in the same place for the foreseeable future — that way homeowners and residents in the race course area will begin to feel a sense of community pride and ownership over the annual event.

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