Racing Through the Woods

The History of the Bezanson Bog

The Bezanson Bog, the local cross-country race held at the Old Bezanson Townsite, has became a huge community event for the hamlet and surrounding areas over the past 9 years. Racers from all over, including Peace River, Tumbler Ridge, Grande Cache and Valleyview, all came to run the muddy trail and try to conquer Buffalo Hill (a steep climb alongside the fence on the north end, which was not used in some of the previous years). This event has become very popular, but for now, it will have to come to an end.

“I can’t think of fall without thinking of the Bezanson Bog, from the beauty of the trail in all its fall splendour to the grinning faces of all the kids as crossing the finish line. At our opening 4-H meeting this week, someone asked, “When’s the Bog?” The race had become a community service activity that we looked forward to, where members would help flag the trail beforehand, marshal runners during the race, and help take things down afterwards.”

-Chris van der Giessen, Former Race Directing Partner

The Beginning

The Bog began as a vision of the former Bezanson running coach, Lana Blais. Lana worked with the former Bezanson School Administrator Randy Hopkins, Bezanson Agricultural Society member Connie Stewart, and GPRC Wolves cross-country running coach Bill Corcoran to design a course at the Old Bezanson Townsite and to include it in the annual Wolves Cross Country Running Series.

Former race director, Carolyn Goetjen-Pilgrim, began as a volunteer and helped to prepare the course and set up the venue. After Lana had stepped down as the race director, Carolyn stepped in and took the reins. She says, “we continued to host the race as part of the series, in an effort to build the region’s grassroots running programs, as well as to showcase the Old Bezanson Townsite and the very beautiful natural settings in which it resides.” This event became a great athletic event for the Bezanson Agricultural Society, as there were racers from all over. Carolyn says, “it’s been a great way to show off our little community and what we can do when we work together.”

The Race

The race began with a 1.3 km race for the youngest age group, a 2.7-3km race for the junior high runners and a longer, more challenging 5-6km race for senior high boys and all other age groups. The trails and distances varied each year due to the terrain and amount of rain over the summer. In the beginning, Buffalo Hill was the most challenging part of this race, but after a few winters of heavy snow, it became impassable and the course had to be re-routed.

            Race day needed so many volunteers each year, from start to finish. Volunteers would help with the start and finish lines, registration table, helping with parking, course marshals (who would help runners on the course with directing and providing assistance) and so much more.

We’ve been fortunate to have friends and family from across the County come out to help on race day – even if they have no connection to Bezanson or the running community. The Ag Society and the race organizers have always had the support of local businesses over the years including Lefty’s Cafe who always whipped up a batch of special Bog cookies for us, Lighthouse Mechanical who helped from day one with all the signage and trail maintenance, Bezanson Store for providing granola bars and juice boxes for participants, Vector Communications (now Bearcom) for always donating radios to keep our marshals in contact, and Ford Brothers for donating water and goods for the race. Bill, Rick and the Wolves family from GPRC always made sure they had someone helping out. My race directing partner, Chris Van der giessen, and the Old Bezanson Townsite committee have been a part of this race since it began. I owe a lot of the successes of this race to these folks. There are countless others that helped out, even spectators who were asked to help out last minute. That’s what grassroots sports is about – everyone pitching in to make the day run smoother.”

-Carolyn Goetjen-Pilgrim, Former Race Director

The Memories

One of the best things about this race was watching the excitement of the younger runners as they start and finish in front of their families, and seeing the older runners line up to cheer them on. Many GPRC Wolves runners would also be on the course, or they would be at the finish line cheering for the next generation of runners. Carolyn says, “Another pretty great part of this race has been watching local runner Anna van der Giessen grow from being a race participant in the first few years, to volunteering as our race bunny for the younger races, to becoming a very successful ACAC athlete.” 

“The Bog was such a great event for our community. It helped introduce me, and many other young athletes, to the running community. I’ll always have fond memories of it, whether it be running in the kids race, being the rabbit on the trail, and even tackling that horrendous hill.”

-Anna van der Giessen, GPRC Running Team

This race was about the fun, the craziness, the excitement and the challenge. Bill Corcoran says, “the best part of the Bog was that crazy course. The extreme Buffalo Hill, deep water filled ruts, mud, mud, and more mud. Runners may not have run their best time on the course, but they got dirty and had a ton of fun. That’s the essence of xc running.”

“Carolyn will always say it wasn’t her, but her team that put on the race, but it is much easier to find people to help than to find that key person willing to take the responsibility of leading the whole thing, from trail layout, registration and timing of the runners, organization of trail marshals and parking attendants, and so much more.  A couple of years stand out for me – one was the year that the “bog” had become a lake and we had to reroute completely around that.  Then there was the year we thought we could get through the Bog again, but it entailed much filling in of deep footprints left by moose and deer.  This was mainly done by Grant with a shovel, the night before and morning of the race.  We put a lot of “CAUTION – UNEVEN GROUND” signage up and breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the race that no one had rolled an ankle!!”

-Chris van der Giessen, Former Race Directing Partner

The Impact

            Our community will definitely be impacted by the loss of this event. This event brought people from the community and all around together. It will affect our community and so much more.

“The immediate impact on the Wolves team will be minor – we have other races we can go to. Over time though, it may affect our recruiting. These local events introduce kids to the sport – some of them end up continuing on in the sport and run for the college.  Fewer local events = fewer opportunities for kids = potentially fewer local athletes. The Bog was a very successful way to promote and grow the sport in the area.  For some athletes, it was their first exposure to the sport – a springboard to bigger and better events. Fiona Benson ran in the Bog in September 2010 and went on to represent Canada in the U 20 World XC Championships 7 months later. How cool was that?”

-Bill Corcoran, GPRC Running Coach

The Sad End

This race has grown into something so much more than just a cross country race. It has influenced the community more than anyone could know, and we are saddened that it will not be running this year. The forest at the Old Bezanson Townsite continues to age and the trails have become more and more challenging to maintain.

“In order to have a safe racecourse for participants, spectators and volunteers, much work needed to be done to remove fallen trees, keep grass and brush cut and managed, and to locate and control hazardous situations. Many volunteer hours have been worked over the years by the Bezanson 4H group, the Junior Forest Wardens, the County of Grande Prairie and a handful of local volunteers. Ultimately, the work needed to keep the trails and trees maintained won out, and last year my husband and I decided to step away from the Bog.”

-Carolyn Goetjen-Pilgrim, Former Race Director

            We thank Carolyn and Grant, along with every other volunteer, spectator, racer and anyone involved in this race, for providing such an incredible event for all of these years. Bill Corcoran says, “I’m very appreciative of all the hard work that Carolyn and her team put in over the years putting on the Bezanson Bog. It was truly a great grassroots community event. While I’ll miss it, I am eternally grateful for the 10+ year run of races. The Bog gave scores of local kids some great memories. It will be missed.”

However, even though it is not running this year, Carolyn says, “There is always opportunity for the race be organized again in the future. It will take some dedicated volunteers to take on the task, but it can be done.” Chris adds, “I would like to think, as a community, that we will resurrect “the Bog” in some form – the trails at the Townsite are a treasure we need to continue utilizing!”

Written by Ally Pilgrim with information, quotes and photos provided by Carolyn Goetjen-Pilgrim, Bill Corcoran, Chris van der Giessen and Anna van der Giessen.