Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun will launch on June 1st 2019 in the rural, quintessential town of Woodstock, Vermont. This event is all about creating a sustainable, healthy community in a setting that has been committed to sustainability since the 19th century. That, and the climb to The Pogue.
Woodstock, Vermont is known for its outstanding cultural, historic and natural resources. The town is home to Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park and several outstanding town parks and public lands, and premier historic sites including the Billings Farm & Museum. The park and museum stand as monuments to people and lands that played a key role in the sustainability movement long before it was a thing.
George Perkins Marsh, who grew up here, is considered by some to be America’s first environmentalist, author of the influential book Man and Nature in 1864. The estate was later owned by Frederick Billings, who established a managed forest and a progressive dairy farm. For much of the 20th century the farm and estate belonged to Billings’ granddaughter Mary French Rockefeller and her husband Laurance Rockefeller, an environmental advisor to a number of US presidents. The Rockefellers donated the property to the people of the US in 1992.
Marsh-Billings House [photo: Don Shall]
From the town’s early founding, Woodstock has been a destination for visitors from Boston, New York, and places further afield. The town also has a vibrant civic fabric with dozens of outstanding nonprofits working across various sectors, and highly engaged business and community members.
Recently a group of seven community leaders attended the National Conservation Gateways Conference in West Virginia, with the goal of making Woodstock a more welcoming, cohesive and resilient community. They wanted to provide more opportunities for the community to interact with the National Historical Park and build upon the strength of the town’s nonprofit and business organizations. They were also eager to develop a community that is more welcoming to young families.
Geraldine Fowler, who attended the conference, is the Director of Outreach at the North Chapel Unitarian Universalist church and the Strengthening Families, Building Community Initiative and is committed to providing experiences, relationships, and resources that advance equal access to holistic wellness for all within the broader Woodstock community — especially children, youth, and families — by working in collaboration with partner organizations and networks.
Geraldine was born and raised in South Africa but moved to the USA in 2002. Over the years Geraldine’s family and friends began participating in parkrun events around the world and Geraldine began to dream about creating a parkrun event in Woodstock.
parkrun is a free, weekly 5k run/walk event held every Saturday morning, year round, in around 1500 communities worldwide. The focus is on community and sustainability, rather than on competition or swag. Children, dogs, and strollers are welcomed, and a popular feature of parkrun events is the post-event meetup for coffee and conversation.
In June 2018 Geraldine’s sister Natalie Demmer, an avid parkrunner, visited from South Africa and during her visit the sisters participated in the Frédéric Back parkrun in Montreal, Canada. This was the first parkrun event Geraldine attended but was immediately taken by the community feel of the event. The volunteers were awesome, the runners were so friendly and everyone cheered and supported one another – exactly the type of event that Geraldine would love to see in Woodstock! The parkrun bug had bitten!
When Geraldine contacted parkrun USA about starting a parkrun in Woodstock she was put in touch with Dominic Lord, another local Vermont resident who harbored similar dreams of bringing parkrun to the area
Dominic is a Welshman who moved with his family to Vermont in 2016. He had discovered parkrun shortly after the birth of his twins, and found it was a great way to “get out of the house and blow off some steam.” So when he moved to the US, he went looking for a similar outlet.
“One of the first things I did, when I moved to Vermont, was to try to find a parkrun. With the nearest option being Boston, there was only one course of action left, and that was to get involved and try to create our own here.”
Walkers are very welcome at parkrun. And the volunteer tailwalkers guarantee that nobody finishes last at parkrun.
With guidance from parkrun USA ambassador Rory Murphy, Geraldine and Dominic applied for a grant from the Woodstock Economic Development Commission to fund the start of the parkrun. The commission recognized the value of bringing parkrun to Woodstock, as it is a free, fun activity that serves locals, and it is part of a global community that can draw more visitors to Woodstock.
With funding in place, the next step was to find a suitable course. Geraldine had recently attended the Gateways Conference with Christina Marts, the deputy superintendent of Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park who was eager to collaborate. The NPS team got to work quickly to find us a suitable trail and so Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun was formed!
The 5k route starts at the Pony Shed which is just a short walk from the Carriage Barn Visitor Center in the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park. Once you leave the Pony Shed, you start up the hill toward Upper Meadow Road along the carriage road.
What goes up …
Upper Meadow Road connects with Mountain Road as it steadily climbs to The Pogue. Once you reach the Pogue you stay left and make your way around the 14 acre pond and be able to take in all the beautiful vistas. You will then descend back down Mountain Road and stay right to Upper Meadow Road.
You will finish right where you started next to the Pony Shed. The climb to the Pogue (360 ft elevation gain) can be tough at spots but on your way back down, you’ll be able to use gravity and momentum to make up for some lost time.
The reward for the climb. And it’s all downhill from here.
Although parkrun events are commonplace in countries like the UK, Australia, or South Africa, where 250,000 take part every weekend, they are still relatively new in the US. When Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun launches on June 1st it will be the 33rd weekly parkrun event in the US, and only the second in New England.
Jamaica Pond parkrun started in Boston one year ago and it has been warmly received by the community, now attracting over 100 participants every week, supported by a vibrant and ever-changing team of volunteers.
MBR parkrun joins Jamaica Pond parkrun in Boston as the 2nd free, weekly parkrun event in New England
MBR parkrun would not be possible without the help of many people and organizations:
A big thank you to Christina Marts, Noah Macri, Kelly Sczomak and others at MBR for this incredible collaboration for the community.
Thanks to Billings Farm & Museum for allowing parkrun participants to park in their overflow parking. And to Sally Miller and the Woodstock EDC for the funding that will make the event free to all participants. The North Chapel and their Strengthening Families, Building Community Initiative has supported Geraldine’s efforts in getting this community event into the community
And a big shout out to Rory Murphy, the volunteer “parkrun ambassador” who helped the MBR team every step of the way. Rory is an Irishman who brought parkrun to Baltimore and now leads an event in New Jersey. He is looking forward to visiting and meeting the Woodstock community on June 1st.
The Middle Covered Bridge in Woodstock [photo: James Walsh]
TIME: 9am, every Saturday.
REGISTER: go to parkrun.us/register, fill out a simple form, and you’ll be emailed a free personal barcode that you print out and bring along on Saturdays
CHILDREN: all ages welcome! Children aged 4 and older can participate with their own barcode. Under 11s should stay with a parent or other responsible adult at all times. Strollers very welcome, but exercise caution on the trails.
DOGS: very welcome! No more than one dog per person, on a short leash.
FACEBOOK: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun
POST-PARKRUN COFFEE: Meet at the Carriage House after every event for coffee, snacks, and conversation.
PARKING: use the Billings Farm & Museum overflow lot, then cross Route 12 to reach the start.
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