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Parks and rec commissioner to run 44 miles for the climate

Courtesy photo Ashland Parks and Recreation Commissioner Leslie Eldridge takes a photo with her family. Eldridge will run 44 miles over three days as part of the Climate Run.

Like many Ashlanders who took to the trails when indoor venues shuttered, Leslie Eldridge upped her fitness regimen during the pandemic — enough that she has entered a challenge to run 44 miles over three days along the Wild and Scenic Rogue River this weekend.

Eldridge, an Ashland Parks and Recreation commissioner, has signed up for the 2021 Climate Run, scheduled for April 30-May 2, a fundraiser hosted by the nonprofit Climate Ride.

The event calls attention to sustainability, clean energy, climate change, transportation and public health. Since 2008, the organization has granted more than $6.2 million to nonprofits focused on sustainability, according to a press release.

Averaging 12-15 miles per day, the runners will begin near Merlin at the Galice Resort, and day one ends near Kelsey Creek. Along the way, runners will pass Rainie Falls, Whisky Creek Cabin and Horseshoe Bend.

Day two offers options for extra miles, traversing Mule Creek Canyon and views of Blossom Bar on the way to Half Moon Bar. On the final day, participants can run 12, 16 or 22 miles through Huggins Canyon to finish the challenge. Each day ends at a prepared campsite.

Eldridge plans to add 2 miles to the standard 42-mile trail to celebrate her 44th birthday this spring — plus 1 mile for luck.

Eldridge, an environmental science and policy instructor at Southern Oregon University, said her students have been especially encouraging leading up to the event, stoking her excitement for the longest run of her life. Until the Climate Run, the Mt. Shasta 30K is her lengthiest running accomplishment.

Meals, camping equipment and rafting support are provided to the runners, who each raised at least $2,000 to participate. Eldridge raised the money mostly through small local donations over nine months, beginning in the summer of 2019. The event was postponed several times due to the pandemic.

The money raised supports more than 100 organizations focused on environmental issues and sustainability work. These groups are leading the effort to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, Eldridge said.

Eldridge committed her fundraising quota to the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Defense Fund, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy and Woodwell Climate Research Center.

“It seemed like the perfect combination of my professional career, which has been dedicated to environmental protection and policy, and my love — my hobby — of being out on the trails,” she said.

Every day when she’s not coaching mountain biking or hiking with her two sons, Eldridge hits the trails around Ashland for one to two hours. She’s prepared to potentially walk a few of the 44 miles, but aims to run the entire length.

Eldridge said her students are often discouraged by the reality of climate change. Seeing young people consumed by feelings of hopelessness, asking “Isn’t it already too late?” inspired her to exemplify a positive action that supports reputable environmental nonprofits, she said.

“It’s really common for people to feel helpless in the face of climate change, and I thought, well, this is one thing I can do. I can run,” Eldridge said. “I can raise some money and I can run. I can feel like there’s a concrete thing that I can do to help that also ties together the things that I love and care about.”

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.