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As Relay for Life grew, so did the traffic
Organizers looking at ways to tweak next years event, if it stays at Road Atlanta
Some of the more than 20,000 people who participated Friday evening in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life at Road Atlanta get off shuttle buses. - photo by Tom Reed
As Hall County Relay for Life participants recover from this past weekend's overnight walkathon, they also might be trying to shake off memories of the traffic crunch at Road Atlanta.

Some 22,000 people attended the American Cancer Society's annual fundraiser, compared to 10,000 last year, creating a logjam at the track off Winder Highway.

"Needless to say, we were a little surprised by the turnout," said Joy Griffin, the Hall County Relay for Life community manager. "We were prepared for growth. Last year, we had four shuttles and this year, we had 10. We just need more volunteers."

The Gainesville and Hall County Systems, as well as Lakeview Academy in Gainesville, donated buses to the effort and drivers donated their time, Griffin said.

The event has been held for 16 years and "this is the first time we've been at a venue that was not a high school football field," she said. "So, there were a lot of changes there we're learning from. We already have a lot of new plans for next year."

Megan Kosicki, who works in marketing and promotions at the Braselton track, said Road Atlanta hasn't formally decided yet whether to hold the event next year.

"We were absolutely thrilled to be able to host it, and I would think we would do it again," she said. "We obviously want to make the event as successful as it can be and we've got the room to do it."

Griffin said Relay for Life would like to stay at Road Atlanta and that it's possible locations might change within the venue.

As for the traffic itself, Kosicki said, "That's not something we can really fix. It's a two-lane road and ... we can't widen the road. However, as far as getting people in, the parking went smoothly."

Normally, she added, "we put on a large event that happens over a four-day period," she said. "Now this (event) starts at 7 p.m. ... and everybody is coming at the exact same time.

"Two thousand-plus people trying to get into one place at one time, you can only prepare so much for something like that. And, of course, it was our first time doing the event, so we've taken a lot of notes so we know what to change for next year."

Griffin said people may need to "change their perspective a little bit" for a larger event.

"In the past, Relay has been something that starts at 7, if you get there around 6, you can probably get in on time," she said. "But with that massive growth and that amount of people, we can't all arrive at the same time and be able to get in - it's just not possible.

"We have to kind of start planning like it's (an Atlanta) Braves game."

Griffin speculated that the bigger draw this year might stem from people seeing the event as "an opportunity to get into Road Atlanta with no admission charge."

"Also, the relay has become a long-standing tradition for a lot of people," Griffin said. "The word has spread. We're thrilled about that, but we weren't quite expecting to double in one year. We love the growing pains but definitely have a lot of positive work ahead of us."

She said the event could use more volunteers who work just the day of the event.

The event features a committee of 40 volunteers who "work all year long to plan every small aspect of the event and, of course, assist in the fundraising," Griffin said. "By the time (they) get to Relay, they already are worn out from the full year of planning and preparation."

Griffin said Relay for Life is "encouraging feedback" from participants and spectators and, starting today, will feature a place on its Web site for comments.

Through the efforts of 125 registered teams, Relay for Life raised $458,378 for cancer research.

Officials are hoping to continue raising enough money to hit the $578,000 goal by Aug. 17.

"We encourage everybody to continue to give, if they didn't have an opportunity to do so before," Griffin said.