There’s nothing quite like fall in Virginia with its brightly changing foliage and crisp air. It’s the perfect time of year to get out and explore nature. And what better way to spend an October afternoon than running a race through a nature preserve while at the same time raising money for a local non-profit?
Haymarket is home to Leopold’s Preserve, a nature reserve named after conservationist Aldo Leopold, that’s open to the public and encircles the Villages of Piedmont. It boasts 380 acres of natural space with seven miles of walking trails, observation areas, wildflower meadows and signs that showcase the environmental and historic features of the rural crescent. It’s also home to the Leopold’s Trail 10K/5K and 1-Mile Fun Run.
The run was the brainchild of Haymarket resident Allen Wagner. An avid runner, he often ran around the Haymarket community, but was excited to discover the trails in Leopold’s Nature Preserve when it opened in 2012. He reached out to the preserve’s owners and community members to see if there was any interest in starting a 5K for residents of the Villages of Piedmont to explore the new preserve. It didn’t take much convincing and the race began as an unofficial 5K in November of 2014. The group decided to make it a charity event and each runner brought a non-perishable food item that was donated to the Haymarket Regional Food Pantry. Little did they know they were launching a legacy of local community generosity that would also become a favorite fall event.
The race was so popular that in 2015, a one-mile fun run was added and the race was scheduled for October to take advantage of warmer temperatures and peak foliage. Working with the White House Farm Foundation, who manages the preserve, a team of volunteers and the HOA where the trailhead is located changed the event from an unofficial to official race with registration fee proceeds going to a local nonprofit, and runners receiving electronic timed bibs, race tee shirts, and other race-related swag. The change proved positive. Participation doubled and the race raised $3,300, which was donated to the Rainbow Therapeutic Riding Center in Haymarket.
The following year, a family festival with local vendors and activities was added and the event was moved to the late afternoon. Said Wagner, “Most races require temporarily closing roads, which usually means being required by the local town or county to do it very early in the morning so as to be the least disruptive. Since we have no roads to close, we realized we had an opportunity to make our event much more friendly, relaxed and fun; no need to wake up at the crack of dawn to participate.” Once again the participant number increased and raised $4,500 which was donated to the Serve Our Willing Warriors Retreat in Haymarket.
In 2017, and again this year, Friends of Homeless Animals is the recipient of the proceeds. A fitting group, as the race is open to everyone — dogs, kids, babies in strollers, and folks who’d rather walk than run. Once again, FOHA will have a booth at the event and lots of cute, adoptable dogs on hand to meet potential new families. (They really get you with the “Aw” factor!)
Leopold’s Trail Run is a truly special race. It’s a closed course, so there are no cars to look out for or road closures. It’s on soft natural surfaces, so your body will thank you. But perhaps the most impressive part of the entire endeavor is that it’s a completely volunteer and group effort – it’s all about and for the community.
For this year’s race, organizers have added a 10K that will take runners around 95% of the trails in Leopold’s Preserve. And for families there for the festival, they’ve brought it giant Jenga, spin-art, face painting, and a bubble-ologist. The School of Rock will be on hand to perform and is bringing instruments for kids to try. Instruments and cute, adoptable dogs. Parents, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
This year’s race is Saturday, October 20 from 2-6 pm, and there’s still time to register. Visit Leopold’s Trail Run on Facebook or https://www.adventureenablers.com/leopoldspreserve or show up early the day of. See you on the trails!