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At first glance, the massive crowd of runners embarking on a grueling 3.1-mile trek along wooded trails, over rambling creeks and up into the mouth of a quarry overlooking the valley below, seems like the most impressive thing about the Rock the Quarry Trail Challenge 5K and Kids Fun Run. 

However, as the race returns to Grove Stone & Sand Co. at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14, for its 12th year, the impact it has on the community continues to be its defining characteristic. 

More than 300 runners are expected to participate in the upcoming 5K, which has raised over $260,000 for a pair of area nonprofit organizations since 2013, according to long-time organizer Jon Neumann. 

"This might be our biggest year yet," said Neumann, vice president of material sales for Hedrick Industries, which owns and operates Grove Stone. "It grows every year, which is a positive thing. It's such a unique race and the word has gotten out how beautiful it is here in the quarry. It's private property, but this event is a chance for us to expose the general public to the quarry in a safe way."

While the race, which debuted in 2008 with around 60 runners, offers panoramic views and technical trails, it represents a lot more to neighboring Black Mountain Home for Children and the Asheville Museum of Science (AMOS).

"It's always been about helping our nonprofit partners," Neumann said. "It took a few years for the race to really catch on, but we've raised more money each year for the past few years."

Race organizers presented Black Mountain Home for Children with a check for $36,000 following the 2018 race and donated $26,000 to AMOS. 

"Both of our nonprofit partners have grown over the years," Neumann said. "Black Mountain Home is adding their new thrift store and coffee shop, and they have a lot of new and exciting things going on there. AMOS has also grown tremendously since moving to its current location in downtown Asheville."

Hedrick Industries has been a supporter of AMOS since its days as the Colburn Earth Science Museum, according to executive director Amanda Bryant. 

"Without the support of Rock the Quarry, we wouldn't be able to offer a lot of the programs that we offer," Bryant said. "Even though some of our field trips require small fees and we charge a small admission to enter the museum, as a nonprofit, it doesn't raise anywhere near what it would take to serve the community the way we do. Without fundraisers like this race, and the work Hedrick has done to really support science, we would not be here today."

The museum, which seeks to provide resources for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, offers a family-friendly indoor destination in the heart of downtown.  

"We have a ton of hand-on exhibits, that really plant seeds of excitement to learn more about the sciences," Bryant said. "We provide a historical context to our visitors as well, so they can understand the rocks and minerals that make up Western North Carolina. We're much bigger than the space we're in."

The museum served over 60,000 students, families, visitors and other guests last school year, she added. 

"A lot of that is through our partnerships with local school systems," Bryant said. "We have over 20 field trips offered here, or we come to the schools. We also do trips to the quarry to learn about micro-vertebra, the creeks and rocks and minerals."

Black Mountain Home, which was opened by Rev. R.P. Smith in 1904 as Mountain Orphanage, has operated on the land adjacent to Grove Stone since 1922. 

"They're our neighbors and we've always had a great relationship with them," Neumann said of the home, that operates several programs for children placed in its care by the N.C. Department of Social Services. "They do tremendous work and we're proud to support them."

Both organizations embrace Rock the Quarry and are well-represented among the runners. 

"I've participated in the race several times," Bryant said. "I like to run and the fact that this race showcases the quarry the way it does makes it such a wonderful idea. Last year was my first year running it as the executive director and we used the race as a team-building exercise by running it together."

The event, which gets underway with a quarter-mile kids fun run at 9 a.m., features a "family atmosphere," according to Neumann. 

"Our sponsors will often have friendly competitions to see who can bring the most runners," he said. "Then when it's all over we gather at the pavilion, pass out awards, and people have the opportunity to learn about our nonprofit partners."

Registration for the fun run, (children 10 and under) is $5 while the race fee for the 5K is $30. Runners can sign up in advance at runsignup.com or register before the fun run on race day. 

"There are a lot of people who pitch in to make this race possible every year," Neumann said. "We're honored to have as much support as we've had and fortunate to be able to support two nonprofits that do important work in our community."

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