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Tough Mudder scouts new location in St. Joseph

Tough Mudder held events at the Somerset Ampitheater the last two years. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)1 / 2
A sample map of what the Tough Mudder course at Game Unlimited might look like. Details of the course are not released to the public until two weeks before an event. (Submitted image)2 / 2

If all goes as planned, thousands of people will flock to Game Unlimited in the Town of St. Joseph one weekend this summer to compete in Tough Mudder, a hardcore obstacle course marathon that has been held in Somerset the previous two years.

According to a presentation by Tough Mudder representatives at the Town of St. Joseph public safety committee meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 19, the Tough Mudder organization has chosen to host this year’s event (July 19-20) at Game Unlimited off County Road E, on the border between the towns of St. Joseph and Warren.

Barry Shaw of Tough Mudder said 12,000 to 15,000 people are expected to attend; 80 percent as participants and 20 percent as spectators.

Shaw said he’s unsure of why Tough Mudder won’t be held at the Somerset Amphitheater this year like the past two years, but guesses it has something to do with the organization wanting to provide a new experience to the Twin Cities area market. The challenge holds events across the country.

Shaw described the 900-acre Game Unlimited property as “dynamic,” with water features and rolling hills.

“We typically look for venues with more than 400 acres and room for parking,” Shaw said.

Game Unlimited owner Pat Melloy said he was approached by the organization about hosting the event.

“They had it over in Somerset,” Melloy said. “It’s good for the community and they’re well-attended. They approached us. They liked our land and we have a lot more room than Somerset.”

Somerset Amphitheater owner Matt Mithun could not be reached for comment.

Pete Melloy, Pat’s son who works at Game Unlimited, said they feel this is a good opportunity to help boost the local economy. They are also unconcerned about what building the obstacle course will do to their land or pheasant population. Game Unlimited provides opportunities for folks to hunt pheasant, deer or shoot sporting clays.

“I don’t have any concerns about that,” Pete said. “Anything that could possibly be ruined or destroyed has to be returned to its original form in the contract. We have a one-year contract with them, so we’ll see how it goes.”

What is Tough Mudder?

Tough Mudder events are obstacle course challenges described on the organization’s website as “designed to test your all-around strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie.”

The courses are 10 to 12 miles long. “Mudders” have to not only run, but overcome obstacles of mud, fire, ice-water, electricity and more. Mudders scale cliffs, wiggle through mud tunnels, swim through underwater tunnels, drag huge tires by rope, leap over logs, shimmy up gigantic mounds of hay bales and test their mettle in many other ways.

“It’s much less about the time than a marathon,” Shaw said. “It’s much more about the challenge and conquering something with those you love.”

The first wave of participants is expected to show up at 6 a.m. that Saturday. The start time is set for 8 a.m. Typically, 500 to 700 Mudders start the course every 20 minutes. That helps control the number of participants on the course at a time, Shaw said.

The aim for the start waves is to also help spread traffic throughout the day, so everyone is not arriving and leaving at the same times. Shaw said the goal is to have everyone off site by sundown, especially on Sunday, the second and final day of the competition.

Participants are treated to a party at the finish line, which includes Tough Mudder providing celebration music, one free beer and a vendor site where people can buy merchandise, food and drinks. Shaw said the event tries to use local concessionaires as much as possible.

Each person who conquers the Mudder course gets a coveted orange headband, a free beer and a T-shirt.

Traffic and parking concerns

Along with thousands of people converging on one location comes concerns about traffic. Stillwater’s Log Jam festival is that weekend. WisDOT is also reconstructing the Highway 35 overpass at Highway 64 as part of the St. Croix Crossing project. The detour runs along County Road E and County Road V. Work is scheduled to be completed by July 3, but there’s always the chance it won’t be done. Shaw said the majority of competitors will be coming from the Twin Cities.

Jon Muller of Lakeview EMS was on hand last year for Tough Mudder at the Somerset Amphitheater. He described the traffic going to and leaving the event as “a nightmare.”

“It’s a pretty quiet event as far as events like that go,” Muller said. “It took two or three hours to get back to Stillwater when the event was over, and that was taking the back roads.

“The EMS can’t sit in that traffic. And if County Road E is backed up onto County Road A, that’s going to be a nightmare. That’s a busy area already.”

Shaw said the only thing residents near Game Unlimited might have to worry about is traffic. A subdivision is directly to the south of the course platted for the event, but Shaw said its residents shouldn’t be affected by noise or anything of the sort.

“The event is a high-intensity atmosphere,” Shaw said. “People are proud to finish. The average number of beers consumed per person is 1.3. If you just ran 12 miles, you’re not looking to rage.”

Also of concern to St. Joseph public safety committee members and St. Croix County Sheriff John Shilts is how Tough Mudder plans to handle parking.

Shaw said that the event crew comes out four to five weeks ahead of the event to build the obstacles, but then brings in a professional parking organization a week before the event to detail a parking plan.

“We’ll do an appraisal of the parking site once the snow melts,” Shaw said. “Right now the planning and mapping is half done because we’re not entirely sure what’s out there under the snow.”

Shaw mentioned possibly adding one or two driveways at the east end of the property where the parking is planned. That must be taken up at the town level, where there may be driveway ordinances to work with.

Planning and staffing

To host an event of this magnitude, the Tough Mudder group will have to jump through some hoops to get the proper permits in place. This process has just begun, although the event is already posted on the Tough Mudder website, with advance tickets being sold.

According to Alex Blackburn, St. Croix County land use and conservation specialist, Tough Mudder must apply for a special exception limited commercial recreational use permit in an agricultural/residential zoning district. In order to get the proper permits in place on time, the deadline to apply is March 3.

The next step would be to go before the plan commissions of the towns of Warren and St. Joseph, which in turn would need to recommend approval to the respective town boards.

If the town boards approve the event, then they can recommend to the County Board of Adjustment approval for the event.

Once the town board recommendations are in and the application is complete, a public hearing will be held at the county on Thursday, April 24.

Muller described Tough Mudder as a “great organization that’s well run. We never had any issues to speak of.”

Muller said the water obstacles on the course keep people cooled down in the hot summer temperatures.

“Most of the injuries we’ve seen from this event were orthopedic in nature, and none were life-threatening,” Muller said. “But there is always potential.”

Shaw assured the committee that a medical tent will be staffed and that a portion of competitors’ fees goes to medical liability insurance.

As for staff, roughly five to nine Tough Mudder employees are on hand. The organization relies heavily on local volunteers: about 150 to be exact. The volunteers help with everything from manning the water stations, to providing support at the obstacles, to helping the flow of participants through the finish chute.

When asked why anyone would volunteer, Shaw said many people volunteer because they like the unique atmosphere and also get radically reduced rates on entering a Tough Mudder event themselves. Entrance fees, depending on pre-registering discounts, range from $59 to $175 per day.

Shaw said Tough Mudder also partners with local law enforcement and/or private security to help with crowd control.

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in February 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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