GARDNER — Officials at the North County Land Trust had hoped that this summer would mark their inaugural Rock and Laurel 5K Trail Race, a fundraiser aimed at inviting walkers and runners to meet at the Crocker Conservation Area in Fitchburg to support their conservation efforts in the area.
But due to concerns about the coronavirus, organizers decided instead to host a virtual race in which participants could choose to create their own route on any of the group’s properties in the area.
“We’ve been trying to figure out ways to engage people differently on our properties,” said NCLT Outreach and Engagement Coordinator Lisa Adams, who said the name of the event derives from the rocks and mountain laurel found along the trails of the Crocker Conservation Area, which was the first property acquired by the group. “The (route) was going to start down at the Applewild School and wind through a couple of other paths onto our property, but now that (the race) is virtual, things have changed a little bit.”
Now, Adams said, those wishing to participate in the event can register to create a route at any of the NCLT’s seven conservation areas, including Dwelly Farm in Templeton, Underwood Road in Hubbardston and the Rome Conservation Area in Gardner, a 158-acre woodland located on the city’s northwest boundary with the town of Winchendon.
“Back in March, when everyone realized we were going to be distancing ourselves, it just made sense to do what people across the country were doing by turning their races into virtual races,” Adams said. “So we can do the event with big sponsorships and food and coffee another time, but for now we can still have some sponsors that we can highlight on our shirts and website, but this is just an easier way to let people register to take part and know that they are supporting the North County Land Trust’s conservation efforts.”
Once registered, participants can then run or walk their selected route at any time between Saturday, June 20, and Saturday, June 28. NCLT officials urge anyone taking part in the event to practice social distancing guidelines in accordance with state orders. Registration will remain open until noon on the final day, according to Adams. Race results will be entered through self-reporting on the NCLT website, and all participants will receive a T-shirt, she said.
Although disappointed that the NCLT’s inaugural Rock and Laurel 5K is a virtual event, most of those who have registered already understood why the decision had to be made, according to Adams.
“It’s been a really good response so far,” she said. “I just looked at our Facebook page and we have a really diverse group of people that are going to be heading out — some will be doing (the race) right here at Crocker, some will just be walking around their neighborhood. That’s the beauty of it, right? You get to decide when you wake up, when you do the race, how fast you want to go, if you want to go alone or with friends — it’s whatever you want to choose.”
The Rome Conservation Area is perfect for anyone wanting to register and run or walk on the trails along the Wilder Brook and Bailey Brook watershed areas, according to Adams.
“It’s a beautiful landscape, and none of the trails is too challenging,” Adams said, adding that the property presents walkers and runners with the chance to see the diverse natural beauty of the area. “You won’t be scaling up a mountain like you would be at Wachusett Mountain, so the trails are pretty easily run, but if you do decide to run you still need to know what you’re doing because there are still rocks and all of that. But the Rome property would be a fun one to do.”
Anyone interested in taking part in the Rock and Laurel 5K can register at northcountylandtrust.org/.