Every year, on December 11th we celebrate World Mountain Day! Mountain environments are particularly affected by climate change. With warmer temperatures, glaciers and snow cover are melting and it has consequences also on the lower lands. Natural hazards are occurring more frequently and sometimes with more intensity, thus putting the mountain ecosystems under more and more pressure. The United Nations have declared 2021-2030 the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and the 11th December 2023 mountain day theme being “Restoring Mountain ecosystems”.
The restoration of mountain ecosystems is needed in every part of the world, even in the mountains located in Europe, which appear well maintained. The healthier an ecosystem is, the more resilient it will be in the future against climate change and warmer temperatures. The better preserved and restored environment, the more trail runners, and everyone else, will be able to enjoy the majestic landscapes and beautiful nature mountains offer.
The aim of the Green Trail Concept certification is to better incorporate sustainable development in trail running organizations. Trail running has grown very quickly in the last decades. The increasing interest of runners to be closer to nature, the evolution of trail running equipment, and ever-increasing performances of athletes in international competitions, have brought the sport to a higher level. The number of trail race events has also increased significantly in the last 10 years, with a 230% increase number of participants).
Sustainable development is based on three pillars: environmental, social, and economic. In outdoor sports events, a vast majority of people feel close to nature and want to preserve and enjoy it for as long as possible. Providing guidelines for race organizers to optimize the organization of events, establish a more formal collaboration with protected area managers, municipalities, sponsors, and local communities with the aim to reduce the overall pressure will go towards the restoration of mountain ecosystems.
In the Green Trail Concept Project, we aim at improving collaboration between race organizers and Protected Area managers, and we see it as key element in preserving mountain ecosystems. With their environmental knowledge, their inputs are extremely valuable. Such questions as: Which is the time of year when the presence of runners and public has less impact on the local flora and fauna? Where should the running circuit be located to minimize interactions with wildlife? Those are complex questions that would mean that race organizers would need to consult with professionals, even for some of the sections of circuits located in privately owned land or forests.
With Protected Area managers providing an advisory role, this would strengthen the sustainability of trail races and the increased support of relevant authorities and public opinion. The role of protected area managers is also to monitor year after year the potential changes of the ecosystem, and monitoring should be included as much as possible in trail running organizations to preserve and restore mountain ecosystems.
In the Green Trail Concept Project, the social aspect is essential and can also contribute to mountain ecosystems restoration. Trail running races are attracting a lot of runners from other areas, who use this opportunity to travel to the race location with their families and friends. Consequently, such events play a pivotal role in cultural activities by not only fostering cultural growth, but also to promote inclusivity within communities. This in turn influences the communication surrounding topics such as the environment and can create a positive change. The project aims to improve sustainability of such an outdoor event by addressing inclusivity to ensure the maximum positive impact possible. Transparency is crucial to understand how race organizers work towards reaching a more sustainable organization by improving year after year. Applying these sustainability principles to trail running events may even be inspirational for the participants, local communities, and local authorities to apply them in other contexts.
The economic pillar:
Mountain ecosystems all over the world are extremely rich and diverse, providing food and shelter to numerous animals and plants. These natural resources can sometimes be sought after by individuals or groups for economic reasons. Depletion of those shared resources ultimately degrade the ecosystems and can disrupt them to the point where the whole ecosystem is affected. In the Green Trail Concept Project, we aim to increase the collaboration and the discussion channels between race organizers, local authorities, local communities, and service providers with the aim of reducing the environmental impact of outdoor events. Measures such as keeping a reasonable number of participants in races, reducing waste, providing vegetarian and organic options for food, or reducing transport emissions, are some elements that can be improved one step at a time.
Environmental issues need to be addressed in the near future for everyone to continue enjoying the outdoors as they always did. By working together, we maximize our chances to preserve and restore mountain ecosystems. Trail running races should be able to play their part in this quest.
Happy mountain day to all!
The Green Trail Concept team