Best in the West brings in 150 more participants than last year

By Benny Westcott
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

Photo by Kristine Banker

The 12th Best in the West Triathlon Festival at Lewis Creek Park and the surrounding areas on Sept. 9 and 10 brought in just under 1,000 racers from 23 states and various countries. That was about 150 more participants than last year.

The fitness festival featured a plethora of events, including a half-iron, kids splash & dash, olympic, sprint, super sprint, 5K, 10K, half-marathon, beer mile relay, 25 mile bike ride, aqua bike, aquathon, duathlon, paddle triathlon, and triathlon.

Well over 500 of the participants were first timers to the event. For 234 people, it was their first multi-sport event ever. 20 people were joining the five-year club, receiving a belt buckle to commemorate.

Photo by Ryan Cummings

Blair Bronson, race director along with his wife Stacy, said the event grew by roughly 100 participants a year from 2011 to 2019, when attendance reached about 1,100. Then, the pandemic hit the triathlon and multi-sport community “pretty hard,” Bronson said.

“It’s just such a social sport, and in a lot of the clubs and things like that, the numbers really dropped,” he said. “So we’re still coming back from that a bit.”

He said the event is “not quite back to pre-pandemic levels” but is “definitely on the rise.”

Helping the cause this year was highly favorable weather. “It was probably the best weather we’ve had in the history of the race,” Bronson said. “That always makes things go a little easier.”

This year featured the biggest splash and dash event ever. In that race, kids up to 12 years old swam and ran.

Photo by Chris Chapman

“We’ve had decent turnout for that in the past, but this year it just really blew up all of a sudden,” Bronson said. “There was just a mob of kids down on the water’s edge.”

Spin Catering fed close to 1,500 people throughout the weekend. Local Shirley Austin made almost 40 pies for the winners, supported by the Sweet Home Senior Center. Live music was also a part of the festival.

Bronson talked about how the park is redone to accommodate the festival.

“Lewis Creek Park is kind of just a blank canvas, and a lot of the park other than the water’s edge doesn’t get much use throughout the summer,” Bronson said. “But this event utilizes the vast majority of it.”

Photo by Ryan Cummings

There was a big transition area where 500 bikes were racked a day, with fencing all around it to keep everyone going in the right direction.

The finish arch had 120-year-old barn wood pulled off of a barn in the Alsea area. The top of the arch had elk sheds on top of it that Bronson’s dad found a few years ago, and a local artist made the laser cut sign.

“It’s not like any other finish arch out there, that’s for sure,” Bronson said.

Volunteers that produce the event camp on site for the weekend. Linn County Shuttle provided free shuttle service throughout the day to make sure people can still get in and out of the park despite roads being closed due to the race.

“There’s a really nice friends and family feel to the event that you don’t get at some of the bigger productions,” Bronson said. “It’s just a bunch of friends coming together to have a good time, do some racing, support each other and have a fun weekend at the lake.”

A lot of the participants also camp in the area.

Photo by Kristine Banker

“There’s a lot of camping and a lot of people coming in to stay the weekend,” Bronson said. “It’s really nice to see that influx of economic boost into the area. A whole lot of people were able to come into the community and see the beautiful area we get to enjoy here in Linn County and Sweet Home and Foster Lake.”

The event’s become an extension of the busy season for Linn County Parks, which Bronson hopes to continue into the future.

“We’re trying to continue to grow, and we’re especially trying to promote local and youth participation, to give kids in the community something to get out there and do during the summer,” he said. “We want to continue to help create hopefully a healthy event for the community that also boosts economic impact and has a positive effect on people.”