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A competitor makes it across a bridge during last year’s Grey Rock Trail Run in Ahtanum State Forest.

A month ago, running the Grey Rock Trail would have been virtually impossible.

Grey Rock Trail Runs organizer Richard Betancourt said downed trees on the north side of White’s Ridge blocked the way in multiple spots, causing some serious concern. Thanks to the work of the Ahtanum 20 Hand Crew, Betancourt’s looking forward to another great, competitive event on Saturday.

“The course looks really good,” Betancourt said. “My only concern right now is the heat.”

The 22-person hand crew led by crew superintendent Jason Horner can’t do anything about temperatures that may rise close to 80 degrees even at the race course’s higher elevations. But Ahtanum State Forest recreation manager Jeff Jones with the Department of Natural Resources said the mostly seasonal workers spent three to four days returning the trail to good conditions.

Their efforts removing hazards helps prepare them for work on fire lines, and Jones said it also builds teamwork and keeps them in shape. The 23-mile Grey Rock Trail is the top priority for Jones due to its popularity among hikers, bikers and motorized users, and the crew also works on other area trails.

“When they’re not on a fire, they go out and do a lot of work for recreation and state lands,” Jones said. “That group does a great job.”

Betancourt also praised DNR’s Stephanie Margheim for relaying information after he sent pictures showing obstacles on the trail. Jones said all the snow melted off a little earlier than usual this year, and the crew even cleared a massive tree runners had to go around in last year’s race.

A few spots still remained as of Tuesday with 31 signed up to run the 12K, another 30 for the 25K, and 20 for the 10K, about 10 fewer than 2018 for the most grueling run. It features more than 6,000 feet of climbing along mostly tough single track trail and although online registration ended Thursday, runners could still sign up at Tree Phones campground before Saturday morning’s early start.

Chasing records

Betancourt believes this could be the year the 12K record finally falls with former West Valley standout Justin Bolt and others setting the stage for a fast race.

Eisenhower grad Chelsea Van De Brake set the time to beat at 1:03:24 in 2013, and Emilio Gonzalez holds the men’s record of 1:04:56. No one came close to those times last year, when prolific ultrarunner Dale Reicheneder from Malibu won by nearly 10 minutes with a time of 1:15:27.

Ian Engerbretson is the only runner to ever break two hours and 30 minutes in the 25K and he did it twice, including an impressive 2:10:50 at the 2015 race. Kirsten Clarke Hollingbery set the women’s record at 2:40:49 in 2014.

Ellensburg cross country coach Jeff Hashimoto posted three of the top five times on the 50K course, including the record of 4:38:06 he set in 2010. Amy Vantassel became the fastest woman by a wide margin when she won the 2017 race in 5:21:22.

Reach Luke Thompson at luthompson@yakimaherald.com on Twitter: @luketscribe