GRANDFATHER MOUNTAIN, N.C. – Over 90 runners lined up at the base of Grandfather Mountain May 3 to participate in the first annual Critter Crawl: a 5K race to the summit of the nature attraction, just below the Mile High Swinging Bridge.  The purpose of the race was to help fund the upcoming eagle habitat renovation.  Runners began the race with warm weather in MacRae Meadows and ended at the top with a cool breeze.

With a commanding lead by the end of the race, the first place participant with a time of 21 minutes and 29.9 seconds was Jason Bryant of Elkin, NC.  Bryant, 39 years old, is an experienced runner who has completed races all over the world including Europe and the Mt. Washington Road Race.  He likes any race that goes uphill and says that Grandfather is one of the best in the area.

Sam Saulsbury of Burnsville, NC was the second to finish in 25 minutes and 7.1 seconds.  Saulsbury is only 16 years old and ran near his home to prepare for the race.  The highlight of the day for Sam was his impressive finish and his ability to keep his nervous stomach settled when he finally reached the mountain’s summit.

Third place was Lewis Hendricks, an Army officer from Chapel Hill, NC.  He finished with a time of 26 minutes and 25 seconds. When asked why he signed up for the 5K race up Grandfather, he replied, “because I’m a glutton for punishment.”  Like most runners, Lewis considered the steep switchbacks at the end of the race the most difficult part.

Finishing first of the female participants and 21st overall was Hannah Wheeler.  Her time was 32 minutes and 34.7 seconds.  Wheeler is in graduate school at Appalachian State University and signed up for the race after her friend told her about it.  When asked if she had ever done anything like this before, she responded with an exhausted smile, “No, and I won’t again after this.”

Sarah Rowe of Columbus, NC finished second in women’s with a 32 minute, 56.8 second time and 23rd overall placing.  Rowe’s main reason for signing up was to practice for The Bear, a 5-mile race that takes place during the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games and has a similar route.   Her favorite part of the Critter Crawl was being able to run through the wildlife habitats, something she isn’t able to do when she runs The Bear.

With a total time of 33 minutes and 6.1 seconds Emily Brown, of Durham, NC finished third in women’s and 24th overall, followed closely by eight-year-old Mary Rachel Lenaeus of Cary, NC.  Lenaeus’ time was 33 minutes and 8.9 seconds.  These two rounded out the podium finishers of the first annual Grandfather Mountain Critter Crawl.

Winners received plaques to commemorate their effort as well as passes for Behind the Scenes Habitat Tours.  All proceeds from the race benefit the upcoming renovations to the eagle habitat that will add a top to the enclosure.

The Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation established to preserve Grandfather Mountain, operate the nature park sustainably in the public interest, provide an exceptional experience for guests, and inspire them to be good stewards of the earth’s resources.  For more information, visit or call 800-468-7325.