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Budd Bailey’s Running: Envirun’s 25-year path has been slow and steady

The Envirun ought to serve as an inspiration for races figuring out ways to keep going, year after year, in spite of a lack of a big sponsor or a natural constituency of supporters.

In other words, if this race can go on for 25 years, others can too.

The 25th annual run will be staged on April 18 at Whirlpool State Park in Niagara Falls. That’s a tribute to the good work of people like Paul Kranz, who has worked on the race from day one.

“I had just started a running program a year previous to that point – running races, doing 5Ks,” Kranz said. “I said, ‘Boy, this is a nice way to raise awareness and such for a cause.’

“At the time I was with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. After Love Canal, we had received a lot of bad press, and I thought we should do a 5K for the environment. The group said, let’s do something like that.”

Kranz followed the example of many prospective race directors in that era: He called John Beishline and Emery Fisher, who suggested a meeting at the Original Pancake House in Williamsville. Kranz received some good advice for the money he spent picking up the check that morning.

“John was blunt,” he said. “He said, ‘If you are out to raise money, have a raffle. There’s a lot to do in putting on a race.’

“That’s true. If you focus on raising money, you don’t have a good race. No matter what the cause is or how noble it is, you have to focus on putting on the event.”

Kranz, who was working in environmental planning, was part of the original team. One member of the group came up with the unusual name.

“One individual said we should call it the Envirun,” he said. “We get all kinds of spellings.”

Kranz had some connections in downtown Buffalo, so he put them to use for the first race in 1991. The post-race party was held at Erie Community College’s City campus.

However, there was plenty of competition for events in the area, so a move to a different part of Buffalo was in order in an attempt to help the race grow.

“We moved it to Kaisertown and had the party at Wiechec’s,” a Clinton St. restaurant, Kranz said. “That brought it to a whole different level. However, the most reasonable route was four miles. With all of the blocks and intersections in that part of town, it got to be more than we could handle.”

So it was on to Chestnut Ridge in Orchard Park. Traffic control was less of a problem there, and the lodge was a nice setting for a postrace party. However, there was a large hill on the course, and that tended to discourage the more casual runners – even if, as Kranz says, it was only a problem going one way.

It was time to head north, to Goat Island in Niagara Falls.

“That’s the perfect place to have a 5K,” Kranz said. “It worked fantastic until the park renovation started. Whirlpool is a good second choice, with its out and back course on the parkway. But we’re looking forward to getting back to Goat Island.”

Along the way, the race has relied on the support of the Niagara Frontier Section of the Air and Waste Management Association, a group of environmental experts in a variety of fields. The members are passionate about helping the environment, but it’s a cause that doesn’t have a natural base of supporters. That makes it more difficult to generate enthusiasm among the public.

“Nobody is against it, but it doesn’t raise the same sort of passion from individuals or sponsors,” Kranz said. “That puts us at a bit of a disadvantage. But everyone who runs enjoys clean air.”

A number of organizations have received contributions from the race’s proceeds. This year, funds will go to the Erie County Cornell Cooperative Extension, which is working to reduce phosphorus loading to area surface waters. That will help cut down on algae blooms at this end of Lake Erie.

The race also funds college scholarships. It adds up to thousands of dollars going to good causes over the past 24 years.

Along the way, Kranz has learned that there’s always something new that comes up every year.

“The devil is in the details,” he said. “There’s so much that goes into it – course certifications, permits, donations, registrations, entertainment, waste disposal and recycling.

“Every year it’s like we’re doing the race for the first time.”

Race calendar

• Slush Rush, 5K, Steele Hall, SUNY-Fredonia, 9 a.m. Sunday 673-3451.

• Bemus Point 5K, Long Point State Park, Bemus Point, 9 a.m. Sunday, 488-0788.

• Bunny Hop, 5K 1 Legion Dr., East Aurora, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, 866-0136.

• Four Seasons of Lovejoy 5K, 115 Gold St., Buffalo, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, 243-1063.

• Fudd’s Run, 3.2K, Chestnut Ridge Park, Orchard Park, 10 a.m. April 11, 868-1055.

• Friends of the Night People Putting Hunger on the Run 5K, 320 Porter Ave., Buffalo, 10 a.m. April 12, 884-5375.