Thursday, March 11, 2010

“This Race Is For The Birds" Connects People FOR Nature

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe. –John Muir

The Potomac Valley Audubon Society’s This Race is for The Birds! takes flight on April 24. Nine years young, the Race is a major fundraising event for PVAS’ popular children’s programs. PVAS believes that children who early learn a love for nature will carry it throughout life. In 2009, more than 3000 local youngsters benefited from activities like the Audubon Discovery Camp and in-school nature education for kindergarten through 5th grade.

The word race suggests a competition, resulting in winners and losers. But This Race is for the Birds is actually a celebration of connection—an event made possible by a network of relationships among people in our community and across the generations.

The National Audubon Society was originally formed by people with a passion to preserve the web of life that is nature. Likewise, PVAS and This Race is for the Birds draw folks together in a common purpose. Everybody wins in this Race, including the birds, butterflies, and bugs.

This Race is for the Birds takes place on the grounds of the National Conservation Training Center, the “home” of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Situated on 533 acres overlooking the Potomac River, the campus is in harmony with its stunning setting. Five miles of foot trails wind through meadows and eastern hardwood forest. Paved walking paths hug the curves of the landscape. As if to give their stamp of approval, a pair of bald eagles nest in a giant sycamore tree not far from the entrance gate
(See photo, right. See Live Eagle Cam and updates here: )

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works to safeguard ecosystems in over 150 million acres of land and sea—a huge task. Jay Slack, NCTC Director, says that “The FWS simply can’t accomplish its mission without working with others.” In line with that philosophy, NCTC has partnered with PVAS from its beginning. Slack says that “ PVAS members were important in the process of establishing NCTC--we listened carefully to what they had to say.”

Over the past eleven years, the PVAS and NCTC partnership has continued to blossom. Citing their history of jointly sponsored events, PVAS Executive Director Kristin Alexander says “NCTC is the best partner any organization could wish for.” The annual Race for the Birds is one of their most successful collaborations. “The Race is a natural fit for us,” Slack says, “ It’s a way to get people outside, away from TV and video games. People who connect with the outdoors are more apt to participate in conservation efforts.”

Karene Motivans first got involved with PVAS when her young children attended the PVAS summer camp at Yankauer Nature Preserve and she befriended other campers’ parents. Now they all enter the Race together to show their PVAS spirit. Motivans knows of one group who sponsors the Race each year in loving memory of Mark Benedict, a PVAS member who worked for The Conservation Fund at NCTC’s campus. They choose this way to honor his years of service to conservation.

Motivans says one reason the Race is special is that the rest of the year the trails at NCTC are closed to the general public. Late April is the height of spring in the WV eastern panhandle. “You see native wildflowers like Mayapple, Spring Beauty, Virginia Bluebells (photo right) and Dutchman’s Breeches. Each year the experience is different.”

James Munnis is co-director of the event this year with his wife Suzy, who has been involved in some capacity with the Race “since day one.” James Munnis is a veteran of many century (100 mile) bicycling events. You can hear his relish for a challenge when he says “Organizing a race takes months of planning and the work of many people. This Race is for the Birds is a completely volunteer effort. We all do our best to give the runners a great experience.”

Munnis is proud that the Race offers something for everyone (See IN A NUTSHELL at bottom). “The biggest draw for kids is the one mile. Most kids’ races usually charge at least something. Ours is free and every child gets a prize!”

The Race continues to evolve. To better adapt to the interests of participants, this year PVAS is adding a wider variety of distances and shifting the longer runs from paved surfaces to the trails. Munnis expects the 4.9 and 7.8 mile choices to entice entrants who have mastered the 5K (a little over 3 miles). “It will give them a bit of a stretch but not too much” he says.

Munnis believes it is rare to find any outdoor athlete who does not value a close connection to the elements. “People who regularly exercise outdoors are attuned to how fragile the environment is and how quickly things can change.”

Race organizers are seeking out more eco-friendly vendors and products. Munnis is pricing T-shirts made in the U.S. from recycled blends or organic cotton. Aid stations will use biodegradable cups and waste will be recycled or composted.

The Race has always offered registration online, says Alexander. “but this year we have a dedicated website ( that also links visitors to the websites of other local races. It’s another way to build community and promote the benefits of active fun outdoors.”

Mark Cucuzella and fellow runner Tom Shantz are donating their expertise in logistics and marketing gained in organizing other events like the Freedom’s Run launched last fall. Cucuzella, a physician, is working to build fitness-oriented traditions in what he hopes will become a National Heritage Area, linking historic places like Shepherdstown, Harper’s Ferry, and the Antietam National Battlefield (photo). His aim is to improve the health of the community.

Cucuzella describes the Race for the Birds as “more experiential than competitive—to me its about enjoyment of the senses. There is nothing comparable locally to the site of the PVAS race-- I consider it a privilege to participate.”

One shouldn’t forget the corporate sponsors of the race—their generosity is indispensable. “The businesses in the local community have been so good to us,” says Alexander. “Without their commitment and support, PVAS programs would not be possible.” Stan Corwin-Roach and brothers Steve Roach and Scott Roach own R.M. Roach and Sons in Martinsburg. The family business was founded in 1952 by their grandfather. “We have sponsored the PVAS race from it’s start,” says Corwin-Roach. “We are happy to do so because PVAS has done so much for this area--and they always make the most of the resources they have.”

Corwin-Roach remembers joining early PVAS members like birding experts Bob Dean and Jean Sheely in the re-introduction of ospreys more than twenty years ago. But he admits he has retired his running shoes. “One year I ran This Race is for the Birds side by side with a nine-year-old kid,” he laughs. “He pulled ahead and beat me at the end!”

This Race is for the Birds reminds us that there is an important race that all of us are running--the race to be more mindful stewards of our natural resources. The community that is PVAS illustrates that we can best do this by joining together. PVAS programs promote conservation throughout the year by encouraging children and adults to connect with nature. On April 24, you can celebrate spring, support PVAS, and have a great time connecting with nature, friends and family in a beautiful outdoor setting. What could be a better investment?

Event: This Race is for the Birds!
Where: Trails of the National Conservation Training Center
Date: April 24, 2010
Times: 9am for 2 mile, 4.9 mile and 7.8 mile runs.
Kids run begins when runners return (10ish).
“Day of” Registration: 7:30-8:45am April 24 ($2 added to fee)
Distances and Prices:
1 mile kids fun run: FREE (self-timed)
2 mile jog/stroll: $15 (self-timed)
4.9 mile Race: $20
7.8 mile Race: $25

Written by Trillium for the March 2010 Good News Paper, Shepherdstown WV

Photos by Trillium

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