About 1,200 people registered for the Very Poplar Run on Saturday morning, for the opportunity to participate in the final race at the Boardman Tree Farm.
The Poplar Run became a very popular run in its sixt and final outing, as nearly three times the number of runners participated this year as ran in 2015.
Runners still had patches of poplars to run through — striking shades of red and orange melded with green leaves still resisting autumn’s pull — but the tree farm’s slow fade-out was clearly felt, not only in the Very Poplar Run’s premature end but also in the sudden expanses of barren land and corn crops.
GreenWood Resources sold the farm’s 25,000 acres to AgriNorthwest of Tri-Cities in February, the new owners intent on replacing the poplars with more conventional Eastern Oregon scenery, including conventional irrigated farmland and dairy.
Andrew Bourque, GreenWood’s director of resource information systems, was one of the run’s progenitors and organized the race each of its six years.
He’s moving to Portland to work in GreenWood’s headquarters, but he was grateful for the time the company allowed him to not only work amongst Boardman’s trees but organize a race.
“This is very unique and I’ve been privileged to call this my playground for 18 years,” he said.
While it might not be as enmeshed as some other Eastern Oregon events, it was special enough for people from across the Northwest to pay it tribute.
Joyce Hughes of Pendleton ran the course twice before, but she brought her children and grandchildren to the event this year.
Having “suffered” through the Portland Marathon two weeks ago in the rain, Hughes was happy that the weather had cleared up for the Morrow County run.
During its lifespan, the Very Poplar Run has functioned as a fundraiser for the Agape House, the Hermiston nonprofit that supports the homeless and needy.
Executive Director Dave Hughes said he wasn’t sure if the unique atmosphere of the Poplar Run could be replicated, but that didn’t mean Agape House was out of the racing game. Agape House took over the Columbia River Best Dam Power Run over the McNary Dam and organized both races as a sort of transitionary period.
While the Best Dam Power Run was put on this year mostly to keep the event in the public consciousness, Hughes hopes its reputation will eventually equal that of its predecessor’s.
“Hopefully, in six years, we’ll have as many as we do today,” he said.