Help celebrate its 100th birthday with a run in a national park
We still have three months to celebrate the centennial year of the National Park Service. Established on Aug. 25, 1916, by President Woodrow Wilson, the National Park Service continues to safeguard wild places that touch our soul. Coined as our National Treasure, the Park Service was created thanks to the visions of John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt. The esteemed naturalist and adventurous president recognized the value of preserving wildness for future generations. They knew the pressures of industrialization were headed westward and swift action was needed to preserve such majestic places as Yellowstone, Sequoia and Mount Rainer. It worked, and as of 2015, we have 59 National Parks in 27 states – eight of which are right here in Alaska. Factor in national monuments, recreational areas, seashores, preserves, historic sites, battlefields and military parks, and one has plenty of places in which to commune with nature or retrace history on foot.
So, what does this have to do with running, you ask? Race directors have recognized the appeal of these special places and have created destination races for us. What a win-win situation for the park and user. I refer to it as “revenue and wonder.” Some people – and I place myself in this category – need an excuse to travel. The type A mind has to accomplish something before relaxing a bit. Here are five of my favorite guilty pleasures within our national parks.
Grand Canyon National Park
At the South Rim, an early morning run down South Kaibab Trail to the Colorado River and up Bright Angel Trail offers dazzling vistas that change as the sun rises along with the temperature. This is definitely, a long day on your feet, commonly referred to as going Rim to Rim. Preload with water and/or electrolyte drink, and carry ample fluids, such as can be stashed in a Camelback. Phantom Ranch at the bottom is a welcome water stop.
Mount Rainer National Park
This area, and any or all of the 93-mile Wonderland Trail, is magical. August and September are the best times to avoid snow in the higher portions of the trail; in October, be ready for early snow. The pine needle surface is heavenly to run on with fewer trip hazards than seen on the East Coast trails.
Hawaii Volcano National Park
This national park, located on the Big Island, is a must-see, especially when it is not in an active eruptive cycle. Toxic gases can literally stop you dead in your tracks, so heed posted warnings. A nice loop trail descends into the Kilauea Volcano to cross the crater floor as steam rises from the fractured surface. Ascend out of that eerie landscape and take a short quarter-mile detour through the Thurston Lava Tube. Once you finish the Kilauea Trail, look to the sky to see the other active volcano on the island, Mauna Loa. Save it for another day as a multiple-day outing. It covers a marathon distance that feels like an ultra, because there is minimal shade and water on the route. Red Hut at the halfway point and the Summit Hut are welcome way stations. Snow is possible on top any time of the year.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Muir Woods
These two locations in California double up for my fourth selection. In 1998, a friend talked me into running the Quad Dipsea from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach. It covers the famed “Dipsea Trail Race” that started in 1905 just a few years before Alaska’s inaugural Mount Marathon. The Quad was two full loops or four times over the seven-mile trail for 28 miles. It climbed over 9,000 feet with 686 stairs. You feel small among the trees in Muir Woods, and as the marine fog lifts, it offers a view that takes your breath away. A 1986 movie “The Edge” with Bruce Dern covers a man’s dream of winning the fabled event. In 2009, Sam Lueck created a full documentary of the race “The Dipsea Demon” much like Max Romey’s film “3022 FT” that highlights Mount Marathon.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
This national park brings me back to my birthplace: Cleveland, Ohio. Created in 1976, it carries the unique moniker of being an urban National Park stretching from Cleveland to Youngstown, Ohio. It was also immortalized in Randy Newman’s song “Burn On,” having once caught fire due to toxic chemicals that have been cleared out. Now the fish and eagles are back along with the runners. Each fall, the Tow Path Marathon takes athletes along the historic Ohio Canal. I actually ran it a few years back with an old high school cross-country teammate. The October event is a welcome change to the big races in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Imagine ticking the miles behind you under a canopy of oaks and maples.
Hopefully, you can make your own memories in our national parks during the next three months. Run 100 minutes or 100 miles to celebrate the the centennial.
—Keep striding and smiling,