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Charity run intended to be fun takes a nightmarish traffic turn

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It was meant to be a fall fun run.

Instead, the Great Pumpkin Run charity 5K event turned into more of a Halloween nightmare, which, for the first time, chose Berkeley Riverfront Park as its course.

Race organizers told FOX 4 News they never imagined huge crowds and a big traffic tie-up near the park, as some runners waited for over an hour to reach the starting line.

“The line is, like, a mile long and people are getting mad because there's no parking,” one race patron complained to FOX 4 News on Thursday.

Crowds jammed Interstate 35 near Front Street, most of them using one major artery to access the park. When three lanes of traffic were forced to merge into one outside the park, it resulted in a big traffic jam nobody could have foreseen.

“It was bad. It was really rough getting here,” a second racer commented.

“It was a little unorganized. They probably didn't expect this many, so good for them,” Shannon Maize, a runner from Leawood, commented.

“The traffic hasn't been fun,” Maize added, claiming to have spent 45 minutes in traffic after getting off the interstate.

Drivers found parking lots overcrowded, without enough space to handle big crowds. Volunteer parking attendants were overwhelmed and unprepared, as nearly two thousand entrants battled rush hour traffic near downtown Kansas City to reach the park.

“Cars are coming in off the interstate,” James Carter, a runner from Raytown, said. “They've blocked both lanes of traffic coming both ways. No cars can go this way or that way. When we finally got in here, parking just isn't adequate.”

Racers waited in huge lines to enter the event just for an opportunity to run. Organizers had to send runners out in waves.

“We're very sorry,” Erik Young, race director, said. “As race directors, we hate when our events don't go as planned.”

Young operates Great Pumpkin Runs in several other cities, using an office in Chicago as the center of his non-profit group. In the past, Young has held the event at Kansas City area farms, and his staff didn't imagine the crowds for this event near downtown.

“A lot of cars came all at once, given that it's after hours. They came all at once right after work. When you have a race in the morning, it's easier to come and spread out,” Young said.

Young says the Great Pumpkin Run is a charity event, requiring race entrants to donate money to one of a number of registered non-profit groups.

Race organizers say they plan to work with the city more closely next year. Young says he wants to use Berkeley Riverfront Park for the 2017 edition of the race, and they’ll address traffic issues in the meantime.