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CHESTNUT RIDGE WATER STOP VICTIM OF ITS OWN SUCCESS

After 25 years, a streak of 300 straight Saturday mornings that included at least one marriage proposal and a lot of wear and tear on runners from those cursed hills, Paul Wangler last week shut down the water stop at Chestnut Ridge.

The organized Saturday morning runs, starting from the lodge at Chestnut Ridge Park and heading over nearby roads, became a victim of their own success. Some Saturdays saw 100 runners or more.

Growing concerns about the safety of that many runners traveling over narrow roads, sometimes two to three abreast, along with growing impatience from the Orchard Park police department, convinced Wangler it was time.

"It's the right thing to do," said Wangler, a retired insurance company executive. He started the water stop after his own running was temporarily put on hold and just kept doing it because it was so much fun.

Wangler saw everyone off from the lodge a week ago Saturday -- a light day because of the Lockport Y 10-miler on the same morning -- and then drove to nearby Scherff and Gartman Roads to set up the water stop. He poured his last cups as runners came by.

He also resigned the honorary title bestowed upon him years ago by the first group of Chestnut Ridge runners, such as Bernie Freedman, Skip Richardson and Jack Curtin.

On flyers that Wangler stuck under windshields and mailed to those he couldn't reach, he signed the messages, Paul C. Wangler, former mayor, Chestnut Ridge Park.

"He never did want that title," Freedman, a Buffalo lawyer, said last week.

Wangler's retiring as the run organizer doesn't mean people will stop running at the Ridge, although it may mark a return to running in the much safer environs of the park itself, with its monster hill, Big Mother, awaiting runners on each lap.

It just means there will be fewer people running at one time on the outside roads, cutting down on the danger of someone getting hit and the growing frustration some of the residents had seeing their country roads taken over each Saturday morning.

Samuel McCune, the Orchard Park police chief, said his department has had a good relationship with Wangler over the years, but said the growing numbers of runners were raising safety concerns.

"He's always been a gentleman," McCune said of the times his officers have talked to Wangler. "We didn't shut this down."

"He hit it on the head," the police chief said. "It got too big."

McCune said runners were still welcome to run in Orchard Park as they are elsewhere as long as they don't obstruct or interfere with traffic.

What Wangler doesn't want is what some runners were thinking of doing: Protesting, taking a wonderful memory and leaving it in bitterness.

"I'm sure that many of you will continue to run at Chestnut Ridge on Saturdays and I don't think you will have any problem doing so," Wangler wrote. "More than likely, many of you will start out at scattered times and use various routes, not the one route that we've used these past 25 years."

On the fast track

Colleen DeReuck, the South African native running her first race as a new U.S. citizen, was off like a shot at last week's Carolina 8K, the USA Women's Championship in Columbia, S.C. Leading the chase pack of the nation's best female runners, was Vicki Mitchell, the cross-country and distance coach at the University at Buffalo.

"I thought to myself, 'What am I doing leading the chase pack?' " said Mitchell, 31, even more alarmed after she saw her one mile split -- 5 minutes flat.

What she was doing was running an assertive, aggressive race, her first real outing in a national class field after coming back from a leg fracture last year. It was a different style for Mitchell, and though she paid dearly in pain by the finish, it worked.

She finished third in 26:53 behind DeReuck's winning 26:16, and Susannah Beck's 26:33, and picked up $2,000. Former local runner Kristin (Schiesswohl) White, who now lives in Fayetteville, finished 10th in 28:19 for $300.

Upcoming races

Polar Bear Run, 5K, Olcott, 11 a.m., Feb. 25, 434-8887 or www.MyLockport.com.; Canisius Chilly Challenge, 5K, Canisius High School, noon, Feb. 25, 882-0466; Old First Ward Shamrock Run, 8K, Buffalo, noon, March 3, 856-8613.

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