Hitting the trails

_- Original Credit: Christine Barker/submitted photo

Irvine Nature Center, in Owings Mills, is inviting the community to get moving outdoors this month at its fourth annual Treehugger 5K.

The run/walk will take place at the nonprofit environmental education center April 10. Registration is $30 in advance and $40 on race day for adults, and $15 in advance and $20 on race day for children older than 2 years old; children younger than 2 are free.


Interested participants can register online at Those who register in advance will receive an event T-shirt. Though early registration isn't required, it is recommended, said Courtney Sagal, Irvine's director of community engagement and organizer of the event.

"We do ask that they register in advance. They can certainly come on the day of — the fee increases by $10 — but we ask if possible that they register in advance just so we have them on the list and have their T-shirt ready, and it just makes things easier for us," she said.


Registration is at 7:30 a.m. and the race will begin at 8:30 a.m. A ceremony will be held at 9 a.m., with all child participants receiving a completion award and the top adult female and male runners receiving awards as well.

A DJ will be on hand to provide musical entertainment, and runners will be able to refuel with complementary bagels, orange juice, bananas and other refreshments.

The run will take participants through some of the nature center's 210 acres, giving them a scenic view of the area.

"The race starts at the beginning of our driveway and goes all through our trails and through the wetlands, the meadow and then ends at our campsite area, so they get to run through a lot of green, they will see some wildlife — it's a pretty run," Sagal said.

Though the emphasis is on nature and appreciating our surroundings, as it has been in the past, this year's event is geared toward a different audience, Sagal said.

"When we started it four years ago we hosted the event as a family event and it was our first year so we didn't have a ton of families participate — it was mostly adults," she said. "So then our second year and our third year we decided to host it just as an adult-only event and a few children participated but not many and then this year I wanted to bring that family component back because I think it's really important to have families come out [and] participate in a healthy activity outdoors."

A major goal of the event is to inspire not just adults to make healthier choices, but families as well, and that's one reason getting children involved in health-conscious activities like the Treehugger 5K at a young age is important, said Beth Lacey Gill, director of marketing, communications and rentals at Irvine.

"I think it's going to be really great," Gill said. "Last year it was mostly all adults and we had a few children that were able to attend and I think in terms of getting people exposed to the outside, getting them healthy, it really does take a village, it takes the whole family … teaching [children] early to want to get outside and be active is great for everybody."


But the lesson Irvine is trying to teach through the 5K isn't limited to the importance of being active. Every aspect of the 5K has been planned to emphasize the connection between humans and the environment — down to the awards themselves.

Each child participant will receive a recycled medal, Sagal said.

"It's a canning jar lid that we create a sticker for, so it'll be a recycled medal that kids can then wear around their necks — they're very cute," she said.

Adults will be given a "recycled trophy native plant, which is basically a trophy that we have re-purposed to make a planter and it will have a native plant with it," she said.

Gill said the unique, eco-friendly awards teach children that "recycle doesn't have to mean bad."

Those special efforts to emphasize the importance of conservation are what people like Elisa Watson, of Baltimore City, appreciate.


"I am crazy about conservation. I am crazy about nature," Watson said. "I grew up sort of in the sticks across the street from a large farm so for me being out in nature is something that's very important to me and again conservation of that is so, so important and Irvine just does such a good job of doing that, so everything from I've been to weddings there to going to Pumpkins on the Green to going to their other events — it's just a place that feels warm and welcoming and I just love it there."

An avid runner, Watson has participated in the Treehugger 5K twice before, and plans to take part in this year's event, as well — that is, if her pregnancy cooperates.

"I will [participate] pending I don't have a baby before then. I'm not due until the end of April so my goal is to still run it this year. I've already signed up," she said. "I really love Irvine and my husband and I feel strongly about supporting them. We're both avid runners. I actually ran a marathon 14 weeks pregnant … the Treehugger is a race I love for many reasons and it's one I don't want to miss, even one [happening this] close to being done being pregnant."

One of the reasons Watson loves the run so much, she said, is the trail it follows.

"It's certainly a very cool run, and it gets you an interesting perspective of their grounds, which are large, so you don't always get the chance to see all of them, but when you're running a 5K through them you get to see a lot," she said.

And seeing them isn't all you get to do, Gill said. Being surrounded by nature gives participants a different perspective of their environment and helps them restore a connection they might have lost.


"I think there's something so beautiful about being outdoors in a natural environment where you can run and hear birds, you might see some deer; your knees are better for it because you're running on something nice and squishy rather than hard like pavement, so I think just getting people to reconnect with nature and just know how nice it feels to reconnect with nature ... how much it recharges you when you do," she said.

Getting people reconnected with nature is one of Irvine's main goals, which is why the event is more of a "friendraiser" than a fundraiser, Gill said. The event will serve as a way to show people all that Irvine has to offer, from its programs to its trails, which can be used for walks or runs by the public during business hours, she said.

"A lot of people when they come to visit us, even when they know about us, they just walk to our gazebo and back, but we have 210 acres, so this run will [show them] all we have to offer here," Gill said. "We would love to have them come here and visit us."

Watson said she hopes to win the race one day but, this year, her goal is just to finish.

And to those wondering if they should take part in the 5K, she said, there are plenty of reasons to lace up and hit the trail.

"I would say you should go because it's a great run, it's a fantastic challenge and it'll give you a perspective of Irvine that you can't get quickly," she said. "It is such an interesting, cool run. You get to go … you're hitting woods, you're hitting fields, you see almost all of the grounds in a very short period of time and you also get to run with a bunch of other people who care about being out in nature."



If you go:

What: Irvine Nature Center's Treehugger 5K

When: April 10; registration is at 7:30 a.m., the race starts at 8:30 a.m., and awards will be given out at 9 a.m.


Where: Irvine Nature Center, 11201 Garrison Forest Road in Owings Mills

Cost: $30 in advance and $40 on race day for adults, and $15 in advance and $20 on race day for children older than 2 years old; children younger than 2 are free.

Registration or more information: Visit