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Guest post: It’s time to get serious about planting trees.

AIR Adventures is excited to announce that it will be featuring a series of guest articles throughout the year, penned by leaders in global conservation efforts. Our first guest blogger is none other than Dr. Anne Hallum, the President and Founder of the Alliance for International Reforestation (AIR). Under her leadership, AIR has planted nearly 5 million trees in some of the most heavily deforested parts of Central America. In this piece, Anne writes about some alarming recent trends in climate change – and our best solution for addressing them.


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Dr. Anne Hallum with farmers, in a community tree nursery they have built with training and support from the Alliance for International Reforestation (AIR).

It’s Time to Get Serious about Planting Trees

By Anne M. Hallum

Founding President, Alliance for International Reforestation

 

Chances are, most of you reading this blog entry are already aware of climate change and the impacts that is already having on our land and weather. Did you know, though, that climate change is actually accelerating? Just this month, NASA, NOAA and JMA released data for 2016 showing that for the third year in a row, Earth has had the warmest year on record. Scientists attribute the accelerations in climate change to two key factors:

  1. The ongoing persistence of fossil fuel emissions; and
  2. What scientists refer to as “feedback loops”: vicious cycles that accelerate warming trends. One example is ice melt: because ice is light colored and reflective, it bounces back most of the sun’s rays, limiting warming. As more ice melts, however, it reveals darker colored water or earth below – which actually absorbs more of the sun’s rays, and contributes to faster warming, which in turn leads to faster ice melt.

The implications of these trends are significant: Just last fall, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) of the United Nations reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached the milestone of 400 parts per million on a global average for the year 2016. In regards to ice melt, the most dire predictions are that coastal flooding and displacement of 150 million people will occur within decades, and increased severity of droughts, fires, and storms will continue—even if we sharply cut carbon and methane emissions today.

So at this point, one may be asking the question of what can we do? The answer is a lot, but we must act quickly, and we must think big. How so? The answer is a simple, two-pronged approach:

First, we must continue and speed our shift to solar and wind energy. Second, and just as urgently, we must plant trees to absorb current greenhouse gases already circulating in our atmosphere.

One important – and simple – strategy in tree-planting efforts is called “regenerative farming,” which involves sustainable farming techniques including terracing, and inter-planting trees with agricultural crops. Additionally, regenerative farming involves replacing chemical fertilizers with cattle manure—plowing this waste into the ground instead of releasing its potent, harmful methane.  Members of the World Agro-Forestry Centre, the Alliance for International Reforestation and other non-profits working in developing countries have been training farmers for years in sustainable farming. Now developed countries are being called upon to shift from industrialized farming that contributes to climatic problems to wide-scale sustainable farming that will sequester carbon while it feeds us. At the Paris climate talks, about 16 percent of the official participants (25 countries) pledged to promote regenerative farming. (For more information on this solution waiting in the wings, see Eric Toensmeier, The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016).

Of course, planting trees through regenerative farming is not enough. We need to plant millions – billions – of trees in order to secure our future for future generations. This means planting not just on farms, but in national parks. City parks. And city blocks, as some community revitalization efforts are already doing. Your block.

Before you dismiss this as an impossible dream, I remind readers that in the United States, we have done this before: In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a works program created to give short-term jobs to 500,000 unemployed persons. This program succeeded in planting 3 billion trees in less than ten years!  The nation had been virtually deforested to build railroads, mining shafts, towns, and for “slash-and-burn” farming, as countless old photographs will show. Observant hikers in state and national parks will notice that old-growth mammoth trees are few and far between, while the majority of trees are roughly the same age—planted in the 1930s by the hard-working heroes of the CCC.  (See Jeanne Nienaber Clarke and H. Cortner, The State and Nature: Voices Heard, Voices Unheard in America’s Environmental Dialogue, pp. 141-53, Prentice Hall, 2002.)

It is important to visualize the scale of this accomplishment and to be inspired to do it again. Before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, world athletes and officials demanded that the Chinese government do something about the debilitating carbon pollution. The UN Environmental Programme concluded that China rose to the occasion:  One of their steps was to enlist everyone from the military to school children to plant over 30 million trees and bushes in the city center . This was an impressive achievement, and the Beijing Olympics helped to change the attitudes of the Chinese government officials regarding the crisis of climate change.  However, those 30 million trees planted in China are just one percent of the 3 billion trees the CCC planted under Roosevelt’s leadership during the crisis of deforestation in the United States.

Here is some good news we should all remember: State and local governments and environmental non-profits do not have to wait for Washington—each one of us can contact our governors, state legislatures, and mayors to take the lead in combatting existing climate change. Here are some ideas:

  • Enlist university forestry programs to map areas of the state that have been stripped of trees by mining, storms, or fires and to identify the best native trees for carbon sequestration to plant in those areas. (Perfect grant opportunity!)
  • Work with environmental nonprofits, land trusts and private citizens to obtain private land not only for trails, but for reforestation. Reforesting pasture lands would be ideal.
  • Begin student programs in public schools and universities to plant 25,000 seedlings each.
  • City governments should enact strict ordinances against clear-cutting for development; or at least require mitigation of an equal or larger number of replacement trees.
  • Enlist National Guard details to reforest areas denuded by mudslides or forest fires.

We are making exciting strides towards a future of clean energy—just look at the work of Elon Musk and massive solar-power plants opening in India and China and Nevada. But trees and regenerative farming will sequester existing carbon. We have reforested our nation before, and as our planet and atmosphere are reaching critical junctures, we must do it again – and quickly!

Interested in learning more and supporting the work of the Alliance for International Reforestation? Then visit the website here or donate directly to support their efforts here!

Flashback: Trailrunning in New Zealand.

This Friday, we’re flashing back to this time last year, when the AIR Adventures team took to the trails and mountains of New Zealand, arguably one of the best spots on the planet for trail and mountain running – and Instagram opps, of course.

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to explore many parks and trails during our time on both the North and South islands – which altogether will take several blog entries to cover! This particular entry will focus on our time spent in Mount Aspiring National Park, in the Otago region of the South Island.

At roughly 355,543 hectares in area, Mount Aspiring is the third largest national park in New Zealand, and forms part of Te Wahipounamu – a designated World Heritage site. Part of the reason behind the park’s designation as a World Heritage site is the mind-boggling array of habitat it offers: UNESCO notes that millennia of glacial flows have shaped this region of New Zealand into fjords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, aquamarine lakes, and waterfalls. This rugged, beautiful landscape is home to several rare, native bird species – including the kea, the world’s only alpine parrot (not to mention a super smart bird), as well as the critically endangered takahe, a large flightless bird.

Our adventure in Mount Aspiring kicked off with an admittedly nail-biting flight into the park on a prop plane roughly the size of a soda can. We may have held our breath the entire ~20 minute flight, but it was ok because the views were breathtaking. Our pilot expertly guided us between snow-capped peaks, pointing out notable landmarks like the Wanaka River, Lake Crucible, and Mount Dreadful during our aerial tour.

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Looking down into Siberia Valley. Trying not to focus on just how far down that is.

After what ended up being an incredibly smooth landing, we packed up and headed off towards our hut in the valley. Like most other national parks in New Zealand, Mt. Aspiring offers huts as refuge for the park’s many ‘trampers’ – NZ terminology for hikers.

Word to the wise: During New Zealand’s summer (Nov – March or April), Mt. Aspiring becomes very popular. Reservations for huts should be made months in advance, to ensure you have space during your trip. Contact the NZ Department of Conservation for information about reservations.

After getting settled in to our hut for the night, we headed out for a trail run through the valley. Our destination was the famous Lake Crucible, so-named due to its bowl-like formation in the midst of two mountain slopes. We started out from the hut, crossing through an alpine valley for the first couple of miles, enjoying epic views of (the ironically named) Mount Dreadful along the way.

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Heading towards Mt. Dreadful. Not to be confused with Mt. Doom, also of NZ fame.

From our jaunt in the valley, we took a sharp left to head up Crucible Track. This trail followed a cascading waterfall up the side of a mountain – and required a fair bit of hiking and scrambling to get up.

After making our way up the steep and wooded trail, we were happy to emerge into Crucible Valley, where at last we were able to glimpse the famous lake. Getting *up* to the lake itself required another steep climb up the side of the mountain – so make sure you’re wearing a solid pair of your favorite trail running/hiking shoes with excellent tread, before attempting this trek!

At the top of this last climb, we were greeted with the sight of a pristine, aquamarine lake, punctuated by small islands of melting glacier. Yellow and white flowers – harbingers of the brief summer that visits the valley – dotted the water’s edge. The water itself was clean and clear – fresh off the melt of the glacial streams that feed the lake. We were able to refill our water bottles straight from one of these streams – so we were all set for our return trip back to the hut!

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Lake Crucible, nestled between two mountain passes, and fed by glacial runoff.

All told, our run to and from the lake was ~10 miles round-trip from the hut, with close to 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Check out our mapped route here.

Interested in visiting? There are several ways to get there. You can either take a plane from the nearby town of Wanaka (as we did), or travel up the Wanaka River by boat. There are also shuttle services to various hiking tracks (trails) in the park.

Fee? Permits and reservations are required to visit the park. Check the NZ Department of Conservation website for details. Dogs? No – due to the many threatened bird species in the area. Instagram photos? Yes please.

While Mount Aspiring offers much, both in terms of habitat for rare species, as well as a playground for outdoor lovers, its future is uncertain: the park has been subject to several development proposals over the years, the most recent of which is an alleged proposal to open the park to mining (the NZ government has denied this ). Conservationists argue that any development within the park – whether to build a tunnel to allow easier access to Milford Sound, or mining – would adversely affect the park habitat and wildlife, and also negatively impact ecotourism.

Interested in supporting global conservation efforts? Then visit the Alliance for International Reforestation, or donate now to help today.

Thanks for reading, and happy trails!

In celebration of city parks.

This past weekend, the AIR Adventures team took part in the Hot Chocolate 15K, a popular running race held every January in San Francisco. This year’s race just happened to coincide with one of the biggest storms to hit the Bay Area in decades – and which led to overflowing rivers and downed trees in many areas. In spite of the rain, we enjoyed our time at the race – and are grateful to all the volunteers who braved the elements to put on a great event.

But this entry is not about the race, or even the storm. Rather, it’s moreso about where the race was held: in  Golden Gate Park, in downtown SF.

Nestled in the northeast corner of the city – and overlooking the famed bridge of the same name – Golden Gate Park offers over 1, 000 acres of green, public space in the midst of the hustle and bustle of one of the most densely populated cities in the U.S.. Within the park, visitors can enjoy a variety of activities: from a stroll through the park’s gardens – including the Japanese tea garden and garden of Shakespeare’s flowers; to a rowboat trip on Stow Lake and catching a glimpse of Strawberry Hill in the process; to – as we opted to do this past Sunday – going for a run.

Regardless of the activities in which park visitors choose to engage, the important thing is that the park offers them as a public service. And this, really, is the beauty of city parks – whether in San Francisco, NYC, or Anywhere: they offer an all-to-important haven of peace, quiet, and greenery for urban dwellers.

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It could be San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, or New York City’s Central Park – but this is actually Hagley Park in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand.

When thinking of conservation efforts – like we here at AIR Adventures aim to promote – the conservation and protection of city parks don’t often come to mind. But they, too, should figure into our efforts to protect green spaces. Why?

The non-profit organization City-Parks Alliance highlights five primary value of urban parks, which we summarize below:

  1. Environmental: Parks help create human and energy efficient cities that are the best hope for slowing global warming. As our sister organization, the Alliance for International Reforestation, reminds us: every tree planted helps to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, and fight climate change. City parks are yet another important ally in this fight!
  2. Community: Well-maintained parks promote community engagement and civic pride. Not all urban residents have the financial means to travel to a park like Yosemite or Yellowstone. City parks ensure that all residents – regardless of economic status – are able to experience and enjoy nature. Additionally, parks help to contain urban sprawl, and research shows the reduce crime – leading to safer communities.
  3. Economic: As key pieces of a city’s infrastructure, well-maintained parks can result in measurable health, environmental, and community savings. One example is the city of Philadelphia, which saved an estimated $16 million in public expenditures as a result of storm water management and air pollution reduction.
  4. Educational: Access to parks provides children with learning opportunities that are crucial to their future success and healthy development. The hands-on learning provided through city parks is especially critical for children who would not otherwise have access to outdoor resources, and can help close the educational achievement gap.
  5. Public health: People living near parks have greater opportunities to be physically active by running, walking or participating in other heart happy activities.

 

So while we here at AIR Adventures encourage you to get out and enjoy – and protect – those great vast wild spaces, we also encourage you to visit and learn more about the city parks that may be right around the corner. Because nature should be for everyone to enjoy, whether in sunshine – or the occasional rainy day.

Interested in learning more about global conservation efforts – and how you can help create a healthier planet for us all to enjoy? Then visit the Alliance for International Reforestation now, or just go here to make a direct donation. Thanks for reading!

 

Back to the west coast to kick off 2017!

After a fun-filled holiday vacation with family on the east coast – and plenty of quality time exploring the parks and trails there – we headed back to our home state of California to hit the ground running for 2017!

Here in Northern California, we are fortunate to have access to a diverse array of parks – from the world-famous Yosemite, to smaller county parks – for year-round training, racing, and general trail-running fun. Some of our favorite parks are the open space preserves (OSPs) scattered throughout the region. As described on their website, the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District ‘is a regional greenbelt system in the San Francisco Bay Area comprised of over 60,000 acres of land in 26 open space preserves.’

These preserves offer hundreds of miles of trails for your favorite outdoors activities – from hiking to trail running, horseback riding to mountain biking. Not all preserves allow dogs, though – so be sure to check on the website regarding which preserves are pet-friendly.

Of the OSPs we’ve visited so far, Russian Ridge and Windy Hill are two of our favorites.

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Running along Russian Ridge in mid-summer.
  1. Russian Ridge is a 3,137 acre preserve in San Mateo County, known for its joyful display of wildflowers in spring. Interested in visiting? We recommend parking at the trailhead at the northwest corner of the Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) and Page Mill / Alpine Road intersection (across Skyline Boulevard on the right). From here, you can head out along the Ridge trail, which will take you up to Borel Hill, the highest point in San Mateo County, with commanding 360 degree views of the Bay and Pacific. Check out a map of a recent Russian Ridge trail run hereFee? No. Dogs? No. MTB? Yes – on designated trails.
  2. Windy Hill is a 1,335 acre preserve located in Portola Valley, just south of the town of Woodside. It offers a diverse mix of redwood, pine, and fir forests, and at its summit, spectacular views of both the Bay and Pacific. Interested in visiting? Park at the trailhead just off Portola Road (overflow parking is available at the Portola Valley Town Center, about 3/4 of a mile down the road). From the trailhead, you can head out on the Spring Ridge or Betsy Crowder Trail. Continue climbing all the way up to the Windy Hill Summit, where you’ll be able to take in views of the Bay to the east, and the Pacific to the west. Feeling up for a bit longer run or hike? Then consider the Windy Hill/Russian Ridge crossover – a 19 mile loop that will take you through both parks! Check out the route here.

Apart from the the wealth of trails offered through the open space regional system, the preserves also provide an important habitat for wildlife – including mountain lion, coyotes, deer, and several bird species. The work of the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District ensures that these preserves will continue to be a haven for both wildlife and outdoors adventure lovers for years to come.

We definitely recommend you taking a weekend to explore some of these great preserves. Be sure to visit their website today to learn more. With 26 options to choose from, you’re sure to find a preserve that’s right for you!

Trail running holiday! Deep South style.

Welcome back from the holidays, and Happy 2017, y’all!

We here at AIR Adventures hope you spent plenty of quality time with family, friends, and – of course – exploring the great outdoors.

For our part, we did all of the above. Our travels took us from the west coast back to the Deep South of the east (beast?) coast – specifically Georgia and Florida. We spent our first few days exploring the trails of North Georgia, in the beautiful Smithgall Woods, and later on to the swamps and sugar sand trails of North and Central Florida.

Some of our Florida favorites included:

  1.  Tom Brown Park, a 255 acre park on the east side of Tallahassee. The park boasts several recreational areas – including a frisbee golf course, BMX track, and miles of trails. Perhaps most notable of the park’s offerings is the plethora of native plants, birds, and other wildlife that it protects. It borders Lake Lafayette, where one can expect to see a wide variety of wading birds – including the iconic great blue heron – as well as plenty of gators, of course.                                                                               Interested in exploring Tom Brown? Consider a trail running or mountain biking adventure: Like us, you can start on the Cadillac Trail – so named because of the old, rusted out 1960s model plopped conspicuously on one hairpin turn of the trail – and continue across the railroad tracks to the colloquially named ‘Bill’s Trail’ in Lafayette Trail Heritage Park. From here, you’ll catch glimpses of Lake Lafayette through the scrub oaks, as you head into the neighboring J.R. Alford Greenway. Check out our mapped trail run here! Fee? No. Dogs? On leashes. MTB? Yes – in some areas.

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    Railroad tracks on a misty morning along Lake Lafayette.
  2. Seminole State Forest, which includes 1,725 acres of protected sand pine scrub around the Wekiva River Basin. This park provides important habitat for several rare and threatened species, including the Florida black bear and indigo jay. It also offers over 21 miles of hiking trails, 23 miles of designated horseback trails, and 25 miles of designated MTB trails. Horseback and MTB use are restricted to designated trails. Interested in exploring Seminole State Forest? We definitely recommend this for trail running and MTB alike – the trails are well-maintained, and the famous Florida sugar sand will definitely challenge you! We parked at the trailhead just off SR 46, and took the orange trail to the white trail for a 10+ mile loop. Check out our mapped run here! Fee? Yes – check website for details. Dogs? On leashes. MTB? Yes – on designated trails/ Check signs!
  3. Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, a 22,000 acre protected area in Central Florida. The refuge provides a haven for numerous native plants and animals, including several threatened or endangered species like the bald eagle, whooping crane, manatee, and gopher tortoise. Gators are also abundant here – and can be seen sunning themselves on the banks. There are several miles of constructed trails that are open to hiking, trail running, and MTB. This area is truly a hidden gem in central FL. We recommend visiting in late afternoon, when the setting sun turns the marshland to varying shades of pink and gold. Fee? No. Dogs? No. MTB? Yes – on designated trails.
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Gator sunning itself in Lake Woodruff.

Overall, our holiday break not only reminded us of the importance of quality family time – but also of the beauty and diversity of the natural habitats in the Deep South. We encourage you to visit these and other parks in the near future, and learn more about the important work they do to protect these priceless natural resources.

Interested in supporting global conservation efforts? then visit the Alliance for International Reforestation, or donate now to help today.