Mudda 2019 by Keith

Carlos Lopez runs through a water hazard in last year’s Mogollon Monster Mudda Gladiator Challenge. This year’s event was canceled two days before it was to take place.

Obstacles galore make Payson’s annual Mogollon Monster Mudda one of the most popular mud runs in Arizona.

But it couldn’t clear all the monstrous obstacles thrown in its path this year.

COVID-19 forced officials to implement several modifications for the scheduled June 20 event at Payson Event Center, including early registration cutoff and prohibiting spectators.

Heavy equipment dug pit after pit as workers began the annual transformation of the site into a maze of muddy fun.

Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Courtney Spawn said 853 people had signed up to compete in the Mudda. With 66% of them coming from out of town, the event serves as an enormous boost to the local economy.

But the Bush Fire introduced additional obstacles that the event couldn’t get around.

The closure of State Route 87 between Payson and the Valley because of the Bush Fire meant those driving up from the Valley would have to go through Camp Verde, a significantly longer trip for many. Add in the possibility of smoke in the area from the fire and the opportunity to use the site of the race to help with the Bush Fire evacuations and officials felt they had no choice but to pull the plug on this year’s event.

Mayor Tom Morrissey announced the cancellation of both the Mudda and Fourth of July fireworks on June 18, just two days before race day.

“Ultimately, decisions surrounding our current environment are not easy, and from a Parks, Recreation & Tourism standpoint we do not want to see any loss of service or opportunity within our community and residence,” Spawn wrote in an email to the Roundup.

“But with the present precautions still in existence with COVID and continuing precautionary measures being enacted within our town, and the current situation with the Bush Fire, pulled resources, and the event location being a possible resource to assist in the case of the fire emergency, that ultimately led to the decision.”

The event wouldn’t have been the same had it taken place as COVID-19 concerns forced organizers of the wildly popular obstacle course mud run to make significant modifications.

No spectators were going to be allowed or vendors. And heat times were to be spread out throughout the day to avoid people congregating at the site. And the Gladiator Challenge was also canceled.

Ultimately, the entire plan was scrapped.

“A lot of components went into the decision,” Spawn wrote. “Our leadership team has been in communications regularly since March regarding COVID, which resulted in budget limitations, and it was not until May 14 when the Mogollon Monster Mudda was approved by Council for Parks, Recreation & Tourism staff to continue working on this event and to implement modifications to ensure safety measures were in place for all involved.”

Spawn said town officials had more than COVID-19 to consider.

“Town leadership and internal department discussions not only included COVID but also the possibility of potential protests during events and how that would be handled,” she wrote. “Then we transitioned into the next added element of the Bush Fire with road closures, air quality and EMS resources being pulled that usually assist with the Mudda.”

Spawn said the race won’t be rescheduled this year but is hopeful COVID-19 restrictions won’t be necessary next year and that they can return to hosting the event that attracts so many people each year.

“We look forward to providing an even better race experience in 2021,” she said.

She said she’s encouraged by the generosity some have shown.

“We had some of the participants elect not to take their refund in an effort to show support of this race and with the knowledge of the work that was already done to prepare for this race,” she wrote. “That generosity is definitely noticed by our department and deeply appreciated. We have received feedback from the participants on how much they enjoy the race are disappointed they have to wait until 2021. But they will be back and ultimately understand all the challenges outside the race that cannot be ignored.”

Spawn said someone on social media called the event the best mud run in Arizona. Many people who take part in the event and those who step up to help make the race possible each year agree.

“I would like to thank the staff within the Parks, Recreation & Tourism Department and Streets Department who worked tirelessly to put all aspects of this event together even with all the unknowns, and their willingness to quickly change directions and revert the facility back into condition to set up for the next need,” Spawn wrote. “And in addition, all the volunteers and local businesses who continued to support the race this year.”

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