Democracy Needs Runners

Clare Gallagher

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I’m confused. But it’s not about what you might immediately think.

Sure, I’m confused about the man who is our president.

But getting closer to the issues that impact me on a daily basis—and that impact all runners—sure, I’m confused why Trump’s executive order about National Monuments to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ended the way it did. Still, this is not what confuses me most. It has to do with runners in the U.S. But before getting to runners, let’s recap: WHAT HAPPENED IN 2017?

Magda Boulet, Western States Champion and Olympic marathoner, runs in awe of the beauty of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. PC: Johnie Gall (IG: @dirtbagdarling)

April 2017

The hottest public lands topic of last year began in  April when Trump signed an executive order to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the justification of the boundaries of 27 national monuments.

May – July 2017

In order to inform his final report to Trump, Secretary Zinke solicited public comments during a 60-day period. Upon compiling of the 2.8 million comments: 99% were in favor of keeping the original monuments boundaries.

August 2017

Ignoring public opinion, in August, Zinke released his report, which recommended shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments, among others.

December 2017

When the shrinking of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante was publicly announced in December at Utah’s state capital, outrage ensued. A coalition of five Native American tribes and the outdoor industry lambasted the President’s actions as unlawful. Patagonia released a provocative campaign: The President Stole Your Land. Multiple lawsuits were filed against the monuments’ downsizings.

How could elected officials ignore the public so blatantly? Democracy seemed, and still seems in many ways, to be at a standstill.

Getting to my real confusion: I’m most confused about the number of comments and how even though 2.8 million comments seems like a lot, I actually think it was pretty lame when you take into account that there are millions and millions of runners in this country.

LOOKING CLOSER: THE COMMENTS

The public comment period lasted from May 11th to July 10th, 2017. Over 2.8 million comments were submitted.

An analysis by Key-Log Economics—which used human reviewers and machine learning to determine the content of the 1.3 million comments that were publically available—showed that 99.2% of the comments opposed any reduction in size of the national monuments in the executive order review.

One of the highlights of the analysis:

Among Coloradans and residents of Washington state, opposition runs at 97% and 98%, respectively.”

Colorado and Washington had monuments at stake and the consensus is impossible to ignore.

Additionally, the state with the most commenters was Utah, which is home to the two most contentious monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante.

Len Necefer, founder of Natives Outdoors, has an emotional run through Bears Ears National Monument after President Trump shrunk its boundaries by 85%. PC: Johnie Gall (IG: @dirtbagdarling)

Guess what? 90.9% of comments from Utah residents were in favor of keeping the original monument boundaries.

Without question, it’s clear the majority of commenters were not keen on the reduction of the monuments.

WHERE RUNNERS ENTER THE PICTURE

Here’s the heart of my confusion. According to a report by the Outdoor Industry Association:  in 2017, there were 52.3 million participants in running, jogging and trail running. That was 18% of Americans last year.

This category of running, jogging and trail running comprises the most popular type of outdoor activity. Fishing—freshwater, saltwater and fly-fishing—was second at 47.2 million participants. Road biking, mountain biking and BMX was third at 45.8 million participants and hiking was fourth with 42.1 million participants.

What am I getting at? More than 1 in 6 people in the U.S. went on a run last year. Now that doesn’t mean each runner enjoyed said run, nor would 52 million Americans call themselves runners. But over 52 million of us went for runs. And undoubtedly, millions and millions of us do self-identify as runners. Specifically, over 8.5 million of us participate in trail running (8.58 million in 2016).

Yet, returning to the comments of the National Monument review: only 2.8 million people commented on the national monument review. This is what I’m confused about.

When you take into account all of the communities of people who presumably commented on the National Monument review: Native Americans, climbers, local Utahns, wildlife lovers, anthropologists, weekend backpackers, and runners—just to name a handful of groups—how were there so few comments? If half of all of the runners, even half of all trail runners, in the U.S. commented, there would have been significantly more comments.

The author runs through Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument after President Trump reduced the monument to half its original size. PC: Johnie Gall (IG: @dirtbagdarling)

Now, of course a runner in Manhattan might not be super concerned with the fate of a national monument out west: a remote place where they may never run. But, hear me out. If there was a proposed reduction of the trails in Central Park, would I comment on that? I don’t live in New York City and I never plan to, but you bet I would comment on that like my life depends on it. Why? Because I know so many of my New Yorker runner buddies do depend on those trails and paths. They are runners, just like me and if their backyard was under threat, I owe it to them to spend a few moments giving my two-cents on the proposal.

ALL RUNNERS ARE TEAMMATES

Runners, we have strength in numbers. We need to band to together in this time of tumult for our public lands. Whether we live in the far corners of the country, in a city with millions of people, or in the heart of San Juan County, Utah, we have to think of the millions of runners getting out there, just like us. Whether we run on roads, on bike paths or on rugged trails, we are all runners. We all depend on our unique stomping grounds.

So, if some runners’ trails were endangered of being sold to private extraction companies or if some runners’ time-honored routes were at risk of being scarred by development or pollution from mining operations, would we band together and protect those runners’ trails? I sure hope so. I sure hope we would take the time to comment on a President appointed review concerning runners, among many other peoples and lands.

If you can’t find enough reason to comment on something like the national monument review, think of your close friends or family who run. Chances are you know runners in the following states:

Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah.

Ask your runner buds who live in these areas and see what they think about the proposed national monuments reductions. Do they even know about them?

STAY TUNED IN

We all run for so many reasons. It doesn’t matter why we run, but that we can run, right?

The next time a public lands commenting period opens up, I hope more of the millions and millions of runners take ten minutes to read up on the issue. And then take another minute to write a comment to our elected officials. We rely on running and democracy relies on us.

FOLLOW UP

Pertinent timing! Please take and share this survey on trail running and environmental issues. The more Trail Sisters respondents we can get, the better! [Editors Note: Survey is now closed.]

The author showing some love for the Grand Staircase – Escalante after her run. PC: Johnie Gall (IG: @dirtbagdarling)

 

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Clare Gallagher

Clare Gallagher

Clare runs and writes in Boulder, Colorado. She’s an environmentalist and a Patagonia ambassador, and of course, a trail sister.

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4 thoughts on “Democracy Needs Runners”

  1. I also think it is wise for runners to support trails and trail building. Both local and large nationwide programs. Even though some are focused on “hiking” this can also include “Trail running”
    Examples include:
    Trails 2000 based out of Durango, Colorado https://www.trails2000.org/
    Moab Trail Mix based out of Moab, Utah http://www.grandcountyutah.net/223/Trail-Mix-Committee
    Pacific Crest Trail Association : https://www.pcta.org/
    Arizona Trail Association: https://aztrail.org/

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