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The 2018 Ozark Trail Taum-A-Hawk Hiking Race is returning to the Parkland on June 9 for its second year.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis photographer who came up with the original concept for the competition is working tirelessly to make sure everything's ready when the day finally arrives.

"I hiked over 1,500 miles in Missouri before approaching the Ozark Trail Association with my Taum-A-Hawk Hiking Race idea," said Matt Ankney. "I've been working on every aspect of the race since September 2016 and it has ended up becoming my proudest accomplishment."

Hosted by the premier hiking association in the Midwest, the Ozark Trail Taum-A-Hawk Hiking Race is described by Ankney as "a team dynamic-based competitive event patterned after the popular Eco Challenge adventure races where mixed gender teams are mandatory for fairness."

He stressed that the hike — which begins at Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, the highest point in Missouri, and ends at Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park — is arduous and not for those who are out of shape or not willing to face a challenge.

"The Taum Sauk section of the Ozark Trail was carved from Rhyolite volcanic rock formed over a billion years ago and is the most rugged in the state due to steep terrain, a dense understory too overgrown to visually penetrate, and rocky, uneven surfaces," Ankney said. "Hiking long distance at a fast pace requires a different technical skill set than running does. Running is difficult and dangerous."

"Over the course of a single day, the Taum-A-Hawk offers a long-distance hiking experience where hikers are pressed to make ground as fast as possible to reach a destination on time when faced with unpredictable weather, illness, injury, or just a long day with many sights.

"Although one hopes it's never needed, the ability to extract yourself from wilderness environments in a calm, precise, and swift manner is an important skill for serious hikers who wish to enhance their overall outdoor survival skill."

According to Ankney, people need to have a greater awareness of the natural beauty to be found in southeast Missouri.

"We are interested in developing and showcasing the hiking opportunities to be found in the Arcadia Valley area in hopes of stimulating the local economy and raising the area's prestige even further as a top recreation destination," he said.

Here are the details for the event:

Co-ed teams of two (16 years-old and up) will hike as fast as possible — no jogging or running allowed — 13.5 miles on the Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail all the way from Taum Sauk Mountain State Park to Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park.

There's a $100 fee per team, which includes a donation and membership to the Ozark Trail Association, along with a trail map, shuttle, food, live music and T-shirt. The top three teams will each receive a trophy.

The following equipment is mandatory: trail footwear, water, backpack and headlamp / flashlight. No pets are allowed to participate in the competition.

"Detailed race rules will be posted, soon," Ankney said. "Ozark Trail race officials and trail cameras will be placed all along the course to ensure teams do not run and violate the rules — especially in a few places more suitable to running. Violation of the rules may result in a time penalty or even disqualification."

Online registration is open now.

"Only the first 75 teams, or 150 athletes, to register will be able to compete," Ankney said. "We are filling up pretty quickly. In the first week of registration more teams signed-up than the total number of those who competed in last year's event.

"We're already a little more than halfway full, so people who want to participate need to register with us as soon as possible. I especially want to have local folks find out about us so they'll have a chance to be a part of this because it's really fun. It's a unique experience that showcases the most scenic part of the trail that we have in Missouri."

For more information or to register for the event go to https://www.facebook.com/events/2004712626521531/ or https://www.runreg.com/taum-a-hawk.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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