Video by Emily Brustoski

In the dry heat of Saturday afternoon, 25 local community organizations lined a slate-colored gravel path under the shade of red and white tents at Hueston Woods. Passing hikers had a wide range of activities to chose from, with organizations offering everything from a hearty helping of popcorn, to a meet and greet with a friendly albino corn snake. The 11th annual Hike-A-Thon PLUS was in full swing.

Every year Miami Health and Wellness and Miami Trails Association host the event in an effort to bring together community members and learn more about the surrounding natural areas. A trail map was given to hikers that drew out trails for beginner, moderate and experienced levels.

This year’s Hike-A-Thon partnered with Miami University’s 4 Paws 4 Ability chapter to help raise money and awareness for the organization — that  fosters and works to place service dogs with children or veterans in need — and the community goal had a special significance to their organization.

“If we hiked a collective 2,000 miles we would get $5,000 for a child or a veteran in Butler county that has applied for a service dog through 4 Paws 4 Ability,” said Sarah Wikum, vice president of Miami’s 4 Paws chapter.

Hikers are also encouraged to track and report how far they hiked and count their miles toward the community goal. The Hike-A-Thon’s community goal was to have hiked 2,000 total miles in a day, their largest goal yet.va

By the time the Hike-A-Thon finished at 3 p.m., a total of 2,690 miles had been hiked, giving 4 Paws their donation.

The impact the Hike-A-Thon had on 4 Paws went beyond a donation. It also allowed Oxford community members to interact with some of the dogs currently training in the Miami chapter and learn more about what 4 Paws does as an organization.

The 4 Paws dogs could be found lounging under the cool shade of the 4 Paws booth, in a VIP spot toward the entrance of the event. Along with their distinctive vests, the pups were modeling 4 Paws bandanas, which hikers could also have for a $6 donation.

The dogs truly were the guests of honor, posing for photo ops, excitedly interacting with new friends and even getting to partake in the hike themselves.

“It was a super great socialization experience for our dogs since there were so many families from the community there with their kids,” said Kelsie Foster, president of Miami’s 4 Paws chapter. “Our dogs got to meet a ton of new people.”

The dogs were not the only Miami animals that had the opportunity to interact with Oxford community members.

Local nature education and preservation organizations, such as the Hefner Museum of Natural History and the Miami Apiculture Society, engaged with hikers to add an educational component to the event.

Children could be heard giggling under Hefner Museum’s tent as they timidly took turns petting the the smooth scales of the albino corn snake wrapped in the hands of Haley Atkins, a senior at Miami University and a Hefner representative.

One brave young hiker, sporting a pair of black cowboy boots and light gray t-shirt, even held the the snake by himself, squealing the entire time his mother tried to take a picture.

“It is really great for the natural areas as most students don’t know the reach of the natural areas,” said Atkins. “It’s a great way to learn about the natural reach and the surrounding area.”

Hikers were able to leave the event with a good workout and more knowledge about the natural areas surrounding them. The partnership with 4 Paws and fantastic local turn-out led many participants to agree this year’s Hike-A-Thon was the most successful to date.

rigazikm@miamioh.edu

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