June 24, 2015 — Wednesday night, I completed the Summer Solstice 14K, a
beautiful 8-mile run commemorating the first day of summer and the longest day
of the year. Over 200 runners turned out for a course that wound around the
Gunks’ incredible cliffs, circled pristine glacial lakes, and took us through
blooming mountain laurel.
It was obvious from the smiles and high-fives how much fun
everyone had. The event held another special meaning for me: my job is
preserving land for the Open Space Institute, a land conservation organization
that has protected some 26,000 acres in the ‘Gunks. Some of the very places we
ran through were ones the Open Space Institute and our partners have worked
hard to protect. And, the race itself reminded me of the sometimes long process
of completing a land conservation deal. Like the terrain I moved through, conserving
land can be hilly and long, but in the
end the scenery was worth every step.
I admit, I wasn’t thinking such uplifting thoughts at the
start of Wednesday’s race. All I felt was pre-race butterflies. As a long-time
runner, I know the beginning of a race is the hardest and sure enough, it was.
We runners started on a gradual, 3 mile uphill climb and
then sprinted over the graceful, historic carriage roads of Hamilton Point, originally
built to serve 19th-century horse-drawn buggies. Just a few years
ago, many of these paths were crumbling down the hillside. In a series of deals
and fundraising initiatives, the Open Space Institute has been working to
restore these historic paths to their former glory.
After pushing through five miles, I headed towards the scenic
and rugged Awosting Reserve. Awosting had been the site of a proposed 351-unit
housing development, with devastating effects on the eastern side of the
Shawangunk Ridge, until the Open Space Institute stepped in to save it. I can
still remember how close we came to losing it and seeing it the other day in
all its beauty made me happy.
All along the course, my eyes darted from mossy rock to
trickling stream. These little reminders brought me back to why I’m in land
conservation—how as a child I’d turn over rocks like these, looking for
critters underneath. Every summer my family escaped to a small lake house not
far from the Hudson Valley from the sprawling
traffic of Long Island, just as many
from the New York metro area still come to relax in Minnewaska today. A recent
survey of visitors to Minnewaska found that about 35 percent traveled in from
the New York City metropolitan area.
The course stretched on and on, funneling me over dips and
peaks atop the Shawangunks. And then, just like that, I could see the finish
line. I sprinted across. At first all I felt were my burning lungs, but then
the endorphins kicked in. I’d done it!
Every year, tens of
thousands of visitors like me come to the Shawangunk Ridge to enjoy the natural
beauty of the region and to go running, rock climbing, hiking and biking. These
benefits don’t just stay on top of the Ridge: a recent study found the three
main recreational areas in the region—the Mohonk Preserve, Minnewaska State
Park Preserve and Sam’s Point Preserve, now a part of Minnewaska—have a
combined economic impact on the local area of about $12.3 million and support more
than 350 local jobs.
If you want to get out to the ‘Gunks this summer for your
own runner’s high, check out shawangunkrunners.com. There are races of all
distances taking you through blueberry fields, up carriage roads and through
Think about it: in this connected age, we see pictures of nature
everywhere: on computer screensavers, or to pretty up Internet websites. But
when was the last time you got out and experienced nature?