Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012 | 2 a.m.
This weekend, nearly 10,000 athletes will descend on a small town in rural Nevada, providing a huge boost to the local economy — all for a chance to play in the mud but away from a small colony of toads.
The competitors are being drawn to Beatty, about two hours northwest of Las Vegas, by Tough Mudder, an extreme military-style obstacle course that challenges participants to go over, under and through a series of grueling stops along a 10-mile route.
The town’s 1,000 residents are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Tough Mudder, the largest event to come to the area in decades. All of the motel rooms are booked and restaurants are stocking up on food and ice. Stores are extending hours and calling in employees to work extra shifts.
Las Vegas is also expected to benefit from the influx of Tough Mudder competitors — with only 300 motel rooms, Beatty can’t accommodate them all and most will commute from Las Vegas to the two-day event.
Beatty locals hope the event will be the first of many large-scale outdoor events to come and take advantage of the area’s scenic setting and nearby mountains, but efforts to bring Tough Mudder to town were nearly thwarted by the most unlikely of parties — the small Amargosa toad, which for years was a candidate for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Native to a 10-mile stretch of the Amargosa River that runs near Beatty through the Oasis Valley, the toad has for years seen its preferred wetland habitat threatened by development and the depletion of water resources in the area.
If the species had been listed under the Endangered Species Act, it would have placed a series of restrictions on the area to protect the toad, which would have planning a course for Tough Mudder exceedingly difficult.
“If the Tough Mudder race was going to go through wetland areas where toads were present and vulnerable, it’s likely that runners through the area could step on toads or their tadpoles,” said Ted Koch, Nevada state supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “That could have been prohibited if the species were listed.”
Protecting the 2,000 or so toads in the area was the subject of debate and study for more than a decade. But thanks to the efforts of local townspeople like rancher David Spicer, whose land will play host to a large portion of this weekend’s event, and a partnership with the federal government, habitats for the toad have been restored and it is no longer a candidate for protection, or the restrictions that come with it.
“We started excavating old spring sites, producing continuing water flow to protect the toads. We needed to make some of our farming combine with the environment so that we can farm and build frog ponds at the same time. We’ve been finding ways to do that,” Spicer said. “Tough Mudder is coming in because they knew I could mitigate and find them a place to put on their event.”
Tough Mudder was founded in 2010 by an ex-British Special Forces soldier and puts competitors through a series of extreme obstacles. It has grown rapidly, from three events in its first year to 35 in 2012, drawing more than half a million participants.
The Beatty event, the first in Southern Nevada, will force competitors through 20 obstacles, including a swim through a pool of ice-cold water, a crawl through mud-filled pipes and a sprint through a field of live electric wires carrying 10,000 volts, before crossing the finish line.
“Mom always told us not to crawl in the mud, but that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” said Tough Mudder spokeswoman Jane Di Leo. “It’s a little crazy, but it challenges you to get in shape and overcome a lot of obstacles. It’s a physical and mental challenge that provides a sense of accomplishment.”
Di Leo said Tough Mudder often builds its courses in rural parts of the country and employs environmental engineers to make sure no damage is done to the land.
“We start the planning process for an event over a year out,” she said. “We want to make sure the land is not permanently affected by what we’re putting on.”
Competitors often travel from around the country to participate in events in unique locations. The draw of Las Vegas might bring in more out-of-town participants than normal, Di Leo said.
“(Tough Mudder) brings people to an area they maybe wouldn’t necessarily go to,” she said. “All of our locations are unique. Sometimes it’s in the middle of a farm field in Indiana. Las Vegas is a very exciting draw for people, and some might choose this event so they can spend an extra night there.”
With the Amargosa toad no longer in danger, Spicer said there’s great potential for Beatty to draw on its natural setting and its proximity to Las Vegas to host more events like Tough Mudder in the future.
“We’re two hours from Las Vegas. These guys recognize this as a sellable venue. We have the infrastructure in Las Vegas to handle the crowd they want to bring in,” Spicer said. “We can open the whole valley up to marathons, bicycle races and recreation. We’re going to have eco-tourism … we have some absolutely beautiful country to go through. We’ve got to find ways for people to come up here and use our space.”