The East Bay Regional Parks Foundation has kicked off its 2013 Trail Challenge program designed to encourage hikers of all ages and skill levels to get out and experience the East Bay’s many hiking trails.
Participants must either travel at least five of the 20 featured trails or hike a total of 26.2 miles over the course of the year to complete the challenge. The Trail Challenge “engages the community and encourages activities aimed at health and fitness,” said Nancy Baglietto, director of operations, programs and development for the Regional Parks Foundation. All entrants in the challenge receive a free t-shirt, and upon completion, receive a commemorative pin.
This year, the program is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. Over that time the challenge has grown, from 150 participants in the first year to more than 10,000 people attempting it last year.
Baglietto points to a general awareness of healthy living as one reason for this sizeable growth. “People are conscious of being healthy and fit, and regional parks are a resource that is available and very accessible,” she said. Another factor contributing to the growth is sponsorship by the Kaiser Permanente health insurance company, which allows the program to be free for all Alameda and Contra Costa county residents. Until Kaiser came on board four years ago, the Trails Challenge was $15 for all participants.
Another change over the program’s history has been a concerted effort to “go green” by providing all challenge materials—including the trail guidebook—online and in electronic form. Apps are now available for Android and iPhones, allowing hikers to access trail maps and descriptions on their phones. (Sign up online to access all electronic materials.)
Although the challenge officially started last week, Baglietto said that sign-ups are welcome all the way through the end of November. Historically, she said, there is a 50/50 split between returning hikers and new participants. “The challenge is a self-guided, self-paced program that features all terrains and is designed for all skill levels,” she said. “It’s really for everyone. It’s all about accessibility and fun.”
This year, of the 20 featured trails, seven are considered easy, eight are moderate, and five are challenging. For the 20th anniversary, the Regional Parks Foundation tried to balance the public’s favorite trails with calls for the inclusion of both difficult trails, like one through Crockett Hills and the one in Redwood Regional Park, and easy loop trails for hikers with limited mobility. Three Oakland trails are featured in the challenge: Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, Sibley Regional Preserve and Redwood Regional Park.
For the second year, a special Trails Challenge membership is available for challenge participants, which provides free day-use parking for several trails that have parking fees, including Coyote Hills in Fremont and Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch. The Challenge membership is $15 for the year, compared to the regular parks membership that is $50.
The East Bay Regional Parks district includes Alameda and Contra Costa counties, and features more than 65 parks and nearly 150 miles of hiking trails spanning the East Bay.
More information about the 2013 Trails Challenge can be found here.