Jenny Jaycox, Big Sur Land Trust’s Engagement Lead is going to take you on a trail run. This is a run that began in 2011 in San Francisco and ended in Carmel, with a Band-Aid found on the 2022 Race for Open Space 21-mile Adventure Course. Join her on this heart-warming adventure.
Our start line is 50 California Street, once home to the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). Working at BCDC for years compels us to regard public access as sacred. The rhythm of safeguarding public access, and requiring it, becomes deeply ingrained. It is cellular. We’re on our mark. Ready. Set…
We go from there along miles of trail, stretching from the Marin Headlands to Fort Ord, as a race ‘sweep’. These are miles spent in service, following trail racers who are racing along public trails for race medals, joy, bragging rights, fulfillment of personal goals, high fives, or maybe just delicious aid station pizza. We are running behind them all, ‘sweeping’ the last runners from the course, along with the race ribbons that marked their way and wrappers inadvertently littered by fumbling, tired, sweaty hands. As race sweep, we ensure the racers’ pleasure is not to the detriment of the trails and open spaces so enjoyed.
Then, our run changes. COVID enters our vocabulary. The races stop. We turn towards trails where we always sought solitude, and now seek something else: safety. Yet even miles from the trailhead, we encounter our first parked car. We pass a hundred more. We hit a gate monitored by tired park rangers turning cars away and begging folks: Please understand, your quiet trail is being loved to death. Because we are on foot we can pass the gate – running shoes are the best entry tickets – but at the trailhead we see trashcans overflowing, on the trail are disallowed pets, and alongside us are deer paths that have become shortcuts. Our quiet trail is being loved to death. We turn around.
In 2021, COVID’s grip has loosened enough that the word race is on our lips once more, and we sign up for Big Sur Land Trust’s Race for Open Space. We choose the 21-mile course, which unlocks gates otherwise locked to the public. It is pristine, and in this managed access approach we find the sanctity of public access harmonizing – not clashing – with the protection of open spaces. We write a quick letter afterwards: “The race format struck me as a gentle and controlled way to open up conserved lands for limited public access. Where public access is warranted, this was such a responsible and wonderful way to grant it. If I can help with setting this as a trend, please let me know!”
A year later, we are helping, in a familiar way. We are back on the Race for Open Space 21-mile Adventure Course, this time in our familiar role of race sweep. Unfamiliar, however, is sweeping a course through pristine backcountry. So, we take a pair of tiny scissors, swearing that each wayfinding race ribbon will be delicately cut – not tugged – from the branches that held them. We take our large-capacity hydration vest, to hold every scrap inadvertently littered. We sign up to sweep both race days: Saturday and Sunday. We sweep slowly. Tiny scissors in hand, we are determined – and we feel a bit silly.
But that feeling of silliness is dissolved when, at mile 19 on the second day, we come across a piece of litter. It is an unwrapped Band-Aid, and immediately it hits us: This is the first and only piece of litter collected from the 42 miles of trail raced and swept. Every walker and runner showed up with their own figurative ‘tiny scissors’, taking as much care to leave the backcountry exactly as it was. Race for Open Space – Big Sur Land Trust, with the support of California State Parks and the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District – provided backcountry managed access that left no trace, freeing us to not only enter the backcountry but enjoy it, guilt-free. The access gate was opened thoughtfully, and we could love passing through it because nothing would be loved to death as a result. We tuck the Band-Aid into our hydration vest. It is our race medal. It is the finish line.
As the Race for Open Space approaches this weekend, I am confident that once again, our wonderful supporters will leave no trace on the lands we all love!