In a regional move to address the problem of obesity and related health concerns, the Mayors Conferences of Alameda and Contra Costa counties have partnered with the East Bay Regional Park District and issued the Mayors Trails Challenge.
The mayors conferences are challenging each other to get the most participants to register for the park district's 2013 Trails Challenge between now and Labor Day. And as of the last count, Alameda County is leading Contra Costa two to one: 3,218 to 1,649.
To get the challenge rolling, Carol Johnson, park district assistant general manager for public affairs, coordinated with representatives from the Alameda and Contra Costa Mayors Conferences, setting the timeline and coordinating their message about community health and wellness.
"We talked about what we could do to raise awareness and how the mayors might be interested in making this a fun challenge that could promote great activity within their communities," Johnson said.
With 65 parks and more than 1,200 miles of trails, the East Bay Regional Park District is the largest in the nation. Establishing the Trails Challenge was one way to help people explore the parks, and its success can be measured by the more than 10,000 registrants last year.
"The whole goal is to get people outdoors and associated with health, wellness and regional trails in the regional parks," Johnson said.
For the past 20 years the park district has selected specific trails, asking participants to hike in five different parks or complete 26.2 miles by Dec. 31. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, this year's challenge offers 20 trails in 20 different parks, leading hikers through interesting landscapes and scenic destinations.
Getting started on the self-paced challenge is as easy as registering online which provides access to the Trails Challenge e-Guidebook containing the 20 trail routes, maps with detailed directions, and safety and other outdoor information. Registrants are also entitled to a free Trails Challenge T-shirt.
Having formed a partnership with Kaiser Permanente, who funds the program, and the Regional Park Foundation, has allowed the district to offer the entire program for free. Including the Mayors Challenge just ups the ante, adding an element of competition and leaving little reason not to join in on the fun.
Three of the 20 featured hikes are right in Central County's backyard: Martinez Regional Shoreline, Briones Regional Park, also in Martinez, and Diablo Foothills Regional Park in Walnut Creek.
Accessible to hikers, bikers, horses, wheelchairs and skaters, trail highlights include resident wildlife and an offshore historic sunken schooner.
The route passes two lagoons, home to an array of birds, amphibians and insects, and provides great views of the park, Delta and Mount Diablo.
Highlights also include the Old Borges Ranch, a preserved 20th century farm with barn, blacksmith and farm animals.
Mayors Trail Challenge or not, there's much to be gained by signing up for the Trails Challenge and exploring the parks.
"Our goal is to get people outdoors and in a fun way, to push themselves, at their own pace, to learn something different from a location they may not have been on before," Johnson said. "We really want to get people to enjoy the parks."
What: East Bay Regional Parks Trails Challenge
Where: Martinez Regional Shoreline: Martinez, 888-327-2757, option 3, ext. 4542
Briones Regional Park: 2537 Reliez Valley Road, Martinez, 888-327-2757, option 3, ext. 4508
Diablo Foothills Regional Park: 1700 Castle Rock Road, Walnut Creek, 510-544-3086
When: Through Labor Day