One Dirty Magazine

Run Wild, a New Initiative, Engages Trail Runners To Protect Public Lands

Grassroots organization encourages trail runners to volunteer and make their voices heard in their local communities

David Roche March 9th, 2017

Run Wild, a New Initiative, Engages Trail Runners To Protect Public Lands Run Wild co-founder Levi Miller. Photo courtesy Emily Peterson

Public lands are easy to take for granted. How often do you reflect on why there are trails where you are running? Why isn’t the land covered in houses or highways?

Emily Peterson, a 30-year-old environmental philanthropist from Mill Valley, California, had one of those moments of reflection earlier this year. Descending into Pirate’s Cove in the Marin Headlands outside of San Francisco, she was greeted by the sunrise reflecting off of crashing surf and steep mountains.

“I feel so extraordinarily blessed by the well-protected network of public lands in our backyard,” she says. “Time on these trails grounds me, sets the tone for my day and has enabled both close friendships and great adventures.” At that lightbulb moment, Peterson says, “I decided there was a great opportunity for the trail community to celebrate and defend the public lands that make our sport possible.”

The next day, she gathered a group of 10 local trail runners, and the idea of a trail-runner-led initiative to protect public lands was born.


A Threat to Public Lands

Peterson’s urgency was spurred by a shift in political winds that seemed to portend threats to public lands. In 2015, the U.S. Senate passed a budget amendment that would enable transfer of public lands to state and local governments. Then in January 2017, just before Peterson’s run in the Marin Headlands, two rapid-fire actions in the U.S. House of Representatives sparked concern.

First, a budget amendment changed how the value of public land is accounted, stating that the transfer of land from federal to state control is revenue-neutral. This meant that the federal government wouldn’t have to consider the impacts of land transfer on the national debt, essentially making land transfers increasingly possible.

Second, and more prominently, Representative Jason Chaffetz from Utah introduced a bill that would have sold off 3.3 million acres of public lands in 10 western states.

A debate that had been bubbling beneath the surface of western land management policy exploded onto the national scene. Conservationists like the Wilderness Society and outdoorsmen like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers got out and spoke up. After a few days of deafening opposition, Chaffetz withdrew the bill. Public lands were safe.

Or, as Peterson was thinking, they were temporarily safe. How could she help? As she thought about it, she came back to the reason that bill was withdrawn in the first place—the voices of conservationists and outdoorsmen. What about the voices of trail runners?


Run Wild’s Mission

Run Wild was born to help give the voices of trail runners a megaphone. According to Peterson, Run Wild will focus on two avenues of movement building. First, Run Wild has partnered with the Wilderness Society, which is on the frontlines of protecting public lands at risk. Revenue from Run Wild shirt sales will be donated to the Wilderness Society’s Our Wild campaign to protect public lands, and Run Wild also encourages individual donations. Second, and most significant to Peterson and her co-founders, Run Wild will try to engage trail runners to become aware of the benefits of public lands in their own backyards.

“Trail runners can start by celebrating the value of public lands directly in the communities where they live,” says Peterson. “We’ll have a designated ‘Run-In’ day in late April, where you can run one of your favorite trails with a group of friends and share photos … [with] a description of the public lands in the area. Learn about how they were protected and when—there’s usually an interesting personal or political story behind every protected area, with passion and timing coming together to push for the protection of that place.”

Peterson says she wants Run Wild to evolve organically and have a “lighter touch.” Instead of big direct actions, like marches, the goal is to help people “become more informed about public lands protections already in place, and to stand ready to activate when public lands are at stake.”

When challenged on the effectiveness of social-media movements, Peterson laughs. “We’re going to put this issue out in the world, and let it resonate with people,” she says. “The optimal response would be full engagement and increased awareness about this connection [between trail runners and public lands].” Run Wild wants trail runners to volunteer in their local communities and make their voices heard in the political process, adds Peterson.

In essence, the goal is to “recognize that every American owns a slice of our country’s wild places—618 million acres, to be exact. This is something unique and worth celebrating, whether you live in Maine, Montana or Manhattan.”

For updates, visit Follow @Runwild on Instagram to get inspired, and use #RunWild on social media to join the conversation. 

David Roche is a public-interest environmental lawyer working on public-lands issues. He also coaches runners of all abilities through is coaching service, Some Work All Play.





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11 Comments on "Run Wild, a New Initiative, Engages Trail Runners To Protect Public Lands"

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I’ve been thinking about this exact issue a lot lately, and I’m so glad to see someone from our community taking action! Thank you, Emily!

David Roche

Woohoo! You rock Cari! Thank you for being engaged!


Thank you, Cari! We’ll be posting more info to IG (@runwild) and the website ( for specific ways to get involved. We appreciate your support!

Sarah Lavender Smith

I support and applaud these efforts. Emily, I’d encourage you to also reach out to Conservations Lands Foundation They are at the forefront of working to preserve “National Conservation Lands” which include all BLM-managed public lands, which are very much at risk.

John K

I was having this same conversation at Idaho’s rally for public lands with Luke Nelson, after he eloquently took the podium to speak about the meaning of public land as a runner Great to see you stepping up. Public lands do matter for runners and we need the community to be aware and be active to defend access.

Suresh Shenoy

So tired of this hand wringing. There must be a million like-minded outdoor enthusiasts including trail runners, hikers & outright lovers of unspoiled lands. If each of us contributes a thousand bucks, the $1 billion could buy significant amounts of land. If Eustace Conway (read The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert) could buy a large swath of land on his own just imagine what we could do!

Josh del Villar

This is incredibly important and timely. Everyone who loves the outdoors is beholden to protect and preserve them, not the least of all us trail runners. I am happy to help.

Mynor Sosa

So like Access Fund, but for runners? Sweet.

Mynor Sosa

We’re surrounded by BLM lands around here in central Nevada. Friends and I run in the Dead Camel Mountains all winter, switching to the Sierra Nevada and Ruby Mountains in late spring. Unfortunately, we’ve been informed the military is taking over the Dead Camels, excluding public use. Very few locals I’ve spoken with even KNOW about the Dead Camels, much less use them so it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion. I suppose we can still run in the Stillwater Mountains but it’s sad to see such a pretty desert area removed from public recreation.