It’s been a good run for the Waldo Waldo 5K, but with access to costumes dwindling, the seventh installment of “Where’s Waldo?” on Oct. 20 will be the last.
Chelise Foster started the event in downtown Colorado Springs six years ago to raise money for recovery, trail building and open space maintenance in the wake of the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire. The whimsical event has raised more than $200,000 for nonprofits including the Trails and Open Space Coalition and Rocky Mountain Field Institute.
Foster, a Colorado Springs native, often hiked the canyon before the fire burned 18,247 acres of forest. Afterward, she wanted to rally the community to help restore the land.
“I thought, ‘How can I restore this area that means so much to people?’ No matter where you lived, you were impacted by the fire. It was such a stressful time for everyone,” she said. “Originally we were going to do a Waldo flash mob in the canyon. Ultimately, we created a lighthearted event with the cause in mind for people to have a good time.”
The idea came from the 1987 children’s book by Martin Handford — a favorite of Foster’s. “As a kid, I always had a weird association with the character Waldo and Waldo Canyon. Hiking there I’d wonder if that was where ‘Waldo’ lived.”
When the fire sparked, she was working for Elope costume company, which had the license to make Waldo costumes. She could get mass quantities of the signature “Where’s Waldo?” long-sleeved red-and-white-striped T-shirts, beanies and black-rimmed round glasses.
Now the popular event will hold its finale Oct. 20, rain or shine. About 3,600 people from 27 states participated last year, Foster said. More than 1,700 already have registered for this year’s 5K.
“It’s really bittersweet. This is the last year we have practical access to the costume, and it doesn’t make sense for us to continue,” Foster said. “The intellectual property license has changed so this year will be the grand finale.”
Because of an outpouring of support surrounding the 5K, Foster has been making plans and will announce possibilities for a new event on race day.
“People have asked us to continue, and we have some events on the horizon for 2019 and 2020,” she said.
Event organizers have bought “all remaining stock” of the Waldo and Wenda costumes. Foster encourages early registration to ensure a costume will be available. All participants ages 6 and older receive a “Where’s Waldo?” costume kit with their registration. Children ages 5 and younger are free. Register at WaldoWaldo5K.com.
“We don’t have a huge amount of extra stock this year, so the later you register means you get the size you get,” Foster said.
The event is untimed and open to runners and walkers of all speeds and ages. Most Waldos and Wendas will walk the 5K, looking forward to the food trucks and Bristol Brewing Co. beer garden at the finish . Race beneficiaries will get $3 of every $5 pint. Five local bands, including Woodshed Red, will perform.
Foster says the race is “her baby,” and she and her husband, Jeff, do most of the organizing with a core group of volunteers.
“We’ve spent countless days, countless nights on this. Seeing it go is really hard for us to swallow,” she said. “We have a lot of passion for our community and want to make a difference here. We try really hard to make it a family-accessible event, keeping the prices low. We donate all the proceeds so literally the money stays in our community.”
RMFI is working with partners on a public planning process to re-imagine Waldo Canyon for trails and conservation. Public input is sought via a short survey at waldocanyonplanning.com. Read more in a recent Gazette article about restoration efforts in the canyon.
“This funding is hugely important, not only for the continued restoration of the burn scar, but the potential reopening of the beloved Waldo Canyon Trail,” RMFI says on the Waldo Waldo 5K website.
Waldo Waldo 5K, 9:30 a.m. Oct. 20, Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, 215 S. Tejon St.; registration begins at 8 a.m., yoga will be held at 8:30 a.m.; cost is $35 in advance, $40 on race day; WaldoWaldo5K.com; race-day volunteers also are needed (sign up at goo.gl/P1TktG)
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