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Marathon puts St. George on map

And Huntsman Games give the area a huge boost

ST. GEORGE — Thousands of health-conscious runners from around the state and nation are in town today, getting ready to take on the world-famous St. George Marathon early Saturday morning.

And while the 26.2-mile marathon is considered one of the fastest, most well-managed and beautiful courses in the world, there are other reasons why local business owners love it when race day rolls around.

"There are a lot of hidden benefits that come from these events," said Scott Hirschi, Washington County's economic development director and a longtime marathon participant. "I often give the community an identity by pointing out that we have this world-class marathon, and a very unique senior class of people who compete in the Huntsman World Senior Games. It shows we have a dynamic community and gives us a spot on the map."

The St. George Marathon draws 6,400 runners, who each bring a couple of family members or friends for the two-day stay. Runners World Magazine recently named the race as one of the world's top four marathons "to build a vacation around," a selling point not lost on area leaders.

"We are just very, very busy right now," said Lorri Puchlik, director of the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce. "We get lots of calls and try to field as many questions as we can."

One day after more than 1,700 volunteers help marathon runners in their bid to cross the finish line in under six hours, another 8,000 people from around the country and several foreign countries show up to compete in the Huntsman World Senior Games.

And no matter how much favorable publicity and economic benefits the marathon brings to St. George — which promoters point out is considerable — the Huntsman World Senior Games bring even more, according to several people who work hard to sell both events to the outside world.

"Undoubtedly, the event that brings the most economic impact to our community, out of everything all year long, is the senior games," Puchlik, said, adding the two-week event pumps around $32 million into the local economy.

Long lines at restaurants and gas stations, "no vacancy" signs at hotels and motels, and clogged roads leading to packed parking lots facing new retail shops all bear witness to the impact of the yearly events.

"Marathon people come down here on Friday, run on Saturday and then go home Sunday so they can be back to their 9-to-5 job on Monday morning," said Vardell Curtis, executive director of the Washington County Board of Realtors. "Senior Games people stay longer and have time to look around and do other things."

Some of that extra time is spent attending a flurry of open houses, poking around the red rock countryside and talking to Realtors, he said.

"We're seeing a resurgence of consumers coming out of California again, much like we saw in the mid-1990s," Curtis said. "They're showing up with a pocket full of cash, too."

Senior Games participants come from every state and several foreign countries. And every one of those over-50 folks wants to live an active lifestyle, a goal that local real estate developers and St. George officials work to accommodate.

"A lot of people who wind up buying homes here say they were first introduced to St. George through the marathon or Senior Games," said Gary Thayne, president of the Washington County Board of Realtors.

"It's hard to quantify the impact of these two events, but it's a huge boost."

With more than 110,000 people now calling Washington County home, and area growth at an incredible 9 percent, there's little to complain about, he said.

"It's just huge. We know there's a residual interest from these events. People may not buy right now, but we know they're interested."