Running the Extra Mile from NYC to Kenya for Conservation

safaricom marathon mt kenya photo
Running the Safaricom Marathon. Photo credit: Elodie Sampere
This guest post was written by Mark Tercek, President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.
Running marathons and protecting biodiversity don't usually go hand-in-hand. But on Nov. 7, I'll join the New York City marathon in the name of conservation.

I've run a few marathons in my life. But the last one was more than 20 years ago. So I am concerned that my endurance may be—as we say in the conservation world—unsustainable. But the race through New York City's five boroughs offers a unique opportunity to spread awareness of conservation to new audiences—particularly to youth and urban communities.

Conservation organizations—including The Nature Conservancy—are good at preaching to the choir. We regularly speak to our usual supporters: Well-to-do older people who live in the suburbs and have access to natural areas where they fly fish, hunt or hike for recreation. These people have helped form the foundation of the conservation movement and we will always rely on their commitment to nature.

But the majority of Americans now live in cities. They less frequently have the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors. Their children spend more time indoors than ever before. There also is a growing disconnect between people—especially young people—and nature. Fewer and fewer understand the role healthy lands and waters play in their daily lives.

mark tercek in kenya photo
Mark Tercek in Kenya. Photo credit: The Nature Conservancy

The New York City marathon is a chance to highlight the importance of conservation to young athletes, to people who rely on urban green spaces like Central Park for their recreation and even to couch potatoes who will watch the race from apartment windows or on TV.
Obviously, running one marathon won't turn around a generation of people. But it could be a small step in the right direction. And we're working to do much more.

Joining me in the marathon will be Bill Ulfelder, director of our New York chapter which is leading the way in reaching out to younger urban audiences.

Through a program called Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF), we have brought more than 350 inner-city high school students from New York City to nature preserves across the East Coast where they spend four weeks learning about environmental and conservation science. For many of these students, it is the first time in their lives outside of the city.

Graduates from the program have gone on to earn environmental science degrees and get jobs in the conservation around the world. We are now expanding the LEAF program to other high school students across the country.

The Nature Conservancy hopes to work with others inside and outside of the conservation movement to educate new audiences about the role nature plays in all our lives, regardless of where we live or how old we are.

And we are going to continue to make the most of marathons and other unusual opportunities to spread the word.

safaricom marathon gazelle photo
Running wild during the Safaricom Marathon. Photo credit: Emma Craig

I'm planning to lead a Nature Conservancy team during the Safaricom marathon at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya in June 2012. It's a rugged course at a high altitude. But its beautiful landscapes and diverse wildlife—including rhinos, zebra, elephants and lions—make this one of the world's greatest marathons.

Training for these races isn't easy, especially at my age. But I hope we can inspire new audiences—urban residents, young people, recent immigrants and others—to think about nature. That's why it's worth going the extra mile to protect it.

Read more about conservation:
The Problem With 'Shoot to Kill' Conservation
Life on the Endangered Species Waiting List
Why Conservation Matters in Conflict Zones

Tags: Conservation


treehugger slideshows