How Runners Can Help National and State Parks
One of the reasons many runners love hitting the trails is the opportunity it provides to disconnect from their busy, tech-filled lives and rejuvenate in nature. The reality is that national and state parks require money and upkeep to remain enjoyable for public use. Fortunately, runners are in a unique position where they can positively benefit the parks they are prone to love.
So, how can you help?
Donate/Pay the Fee
Many parks have donation boxes in the visitor center or at the beginning of a trailhead. If every trail runner dropped off a couple of dollars before each run, it could be a real asset to the preservation of the park. Long-term, this could equate to better bathroom facilities, water fountains, trail maintenance, and more, all of which benefit you as a trail runner!
Sign Up for Trail Races or Hikes
Signing up for a trail race or hike held at a park has numerous benefits. Most races held at a national or state park directly benefit the park and are held there as a fundraiser. And from a runner’s perspective, park races tend to be cheaper than many mainstream road races. In this scenario, both parties benefit. There is also the added bonus that the different terrains associated with trail races make for an excellent workout.
Go Green with Water Usage
When you visit the park, use a reusable water bottle. Rather than constantly filling up the trash cans with plastic bottles, using a reusable bottle is better for the environment. Additionally, when a trail race says they are going green and won’t be using disposable cups, don’t view this as a negative! Instead, see it as you doing your part as a runner to help the environment.
Many parks rely on volunteer help to get certain tasks accomplished. Many parks allow one-time, short term, or regular volunteers. This allows you to choose your level of involvement. Volunteer tasks differ from park to park but could include planting trees, clearing trails, painting, raking, cleaning, leading hikes, and more. Many of the tasks are a great arm workout, which can count towards your strength training. And no one says you can’t volunteer for a few hours then take in a quick trail run afterwards!
Whether by organizing a group run on Facebook or posting an outing on Meetup.com, getting others to the park and spreading the word is powerful. Not to mention, joining a run group can have a positive impact on your training and social well-being. Additionally, many parks have their own social handle or hashtag. If you are enjoying the natural beauty, take a photo and share it! Some parks will reward you for following them on social media. This may come in the form of social media contests with the chance to win a giveaway. Or it could be something unique like the Healthy Parks, Healthy People campaign. With this, the U.S. National Park Service created a program to connect people with parks believing that parks are beneficial to our health and well-being. In the case of Tennessee, an app was created to earn points any time you visit one of their parks. These points can be accumulated and then redeemed for rewards such as a free night’s stay in a campground.
A New Way to Travel
Running is a great way to explore a new place. By checking out the local parks and trails, you get a unique perspective of that area’s natural offerings. Ultrarunners have long been in the know about this trick of traveling and exploring. By checking out a new state or national park on your next vacation you have a great way to train like a local!
Do Not Litter
For many this is a given. For others, littering can mean different things, not just throwing plastic wrappers on the ground. Some runners like to chew gum or use energy chews while running. Don’t spit these out! This counts as littering. Ditto for items you might not consider litter because they decompose (apple cores, banana peels, etc.). Other runners could step on these items or dogs passing by might try to ingest them. Leave only footprints behind!
The idea of being considerate covers a whole manner of sins. Be considerate and pick up after your pet. Be considerate and don’t shove past other runners or hikers. Be considerate and polite to the rangers – they have to put up with a lot, usually on a small budget. Don’t give the sport a bad name by your personal behavior. People are at the park to connect with nature and relax. Respect that.
Simply Use Them!
By running on the trails, you help keep the trails worn for others. Consistent use helps slow the growth of weeds. Then when you talk with your friends and family about your experience or post on social media, you are spreading the word about the parks’ existence and beauty. Simply showing up and appreciating nature is a great way for runners to help preserve these national and state parks for future generations.