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Trailblazers

Central Ohio isn’t typically known for trail running. Most people who enjoy racing through nature’s obstacles travel some distance in order to get their fix.

The Rocks and Roots Trail Runners Association, a non-profit organization aimed at creating sustainable outdoor opportunities throughout Ohio, was formed with the goal of bringing that euphoric, meditative feeling of running trails to the city of Columbus.

Leaders of Rocks and Roots decided now was as good a time as ever to make a change. They wanted Columbus to become a destination for trail running, to expand the experiences they’ve had on trails beyond the short-looped miles that had already been established.

“This is for me more enjoyable than road running because I threw the pace out the window. [The trail] maps my run for me. It just became after work I went out there and decompressed. At Alum Creek you can take breaks. You can get to a point where you look at the lake and just sit down next to an overturned tree that’s falling down into the water and just enjoy nature a little bit,” said Ryan Moran, one of the group’s organizers.

Begun by four local runners, Rocks and Roots has been working since last year to build a new 14-mile trail system throughout Alum Creek State Park, building onto the existing three-mile trail. They’re hoping to have the entire course complete this year.

Jeff Henderson, equity operator of Fleet Feet Columbus and one of the city’s biggest advocates for creating a healthier town, is hoping that this will be an additional attraction.

“Now we’re getting people that are falling into running for whatever reason, and the more opportunities we can have to get more people out is my number one goal.” Henderson has seen a continuous shift in people who move from half-marathons to full marathons to Ironmans, and he believes that having up to a 50k course on which enthusiasts can train will help those individuals from ever being bored in their fitness pursuits.

It hasn’t been an easy build – they didn’t underestimate the amount of work, but instead the time it would take to do it. After starting to mark off the course last April, during hours of manual labor the first Sunday trail-build left organizers thinking that they had built at least a half-mile, only to map the distance at 0.1 miles.

Luckily, with the help of between 10 and 30 volunteers each Sunday during their organized group trail-builds, they’ve been able to finish as much as a half-mile in one day’s work. Thursday night group runs are focused on enjoying the work they’ve created.

Even throughout the brutal winter, they rallied 15 to 20 people consistently – putting in a few hours work after a long Sunday run and then putting on their headlamps on Thursday nights.

The work is constant, even after a path is cleared there’s still vegetation that will require maintenance, which Rocks and Roots hopes will become more sustainable with more people bringing foot-traffic into the area. Supplies have mainly been out-of-pocket, although the group has been working with corporate sponsors and other local groups.

Rocks and Roots has become a community for people of shared passion to get together and do something for the betterment of not only themselves, but others too – by trailblazing a place people can find their daily path, as long as they keep moving. •

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