By: Savannah Scarborough, Follow South Jersey Intern
SOUTH JERSEY — Thursday, June 1, marked the kickoff of New Jersey Highlands Coalition (NJHC) 2023, “Explore the Highlands Hike-A-Thon,” which runs through Friday, June 30. The Hike-A-Thon is a chance for New Jersians to protect the vital forests, clean water, scenic viewsheds, wildlife, habitats, farms, and other natural, historical, and cultural resources of the New Jersey Highlands.
The Hike-A-Thon is an entirely virtual fundraising event that encourages everyone to walk, hike, bike, or paddle around their favorite places in the state. Through the virtual event, everyone who signs up and participates will be connected through the RunSignUp platform and #ExploretheNJHighlands on Instagram.
“It is virtual, and the RunSignUp platform allows folks to go into their profile, add their activities and miles booked and what type of activities, whether it was biking, hiking, or paddling, and we can keep an eye on that,” said NJHC Event Coordinator Jen Wanisko.
All of the proceeds will support the advocacy and education programs of the NJHC, which does many things. Their mission is to “protect, enhance, and promote the vital water and other natural & cultural resources of the New Jersey Highlands” and to “preserve the quality and quantity of drinking water for the 6.2 million people who depend on the Highlands water.”
The Highlands hold some of the most precious hiking and biking trails and water resources. “More than 70% of the residents in the state of New Jersey get some or all of their water from the New Jersey Highlands. The New Jersey Highlands itself is about 16% of the landmass of the state, pretty much in the Northwest of New Jersey,” said NJHC Executive Director Julia Somers.
By signing up, you will participate in the fundraiser and receive benefits. registration fees ($20 + fees for adults and $10 + feeds for people under 15) and fundraising proceeds will go towards protecting the Highlands. Once you sign up, you will receive the Coalition’s favorite trail recommendations for hiking, biking, and paddling. You will also have the opportunity to share your outdoor adventures via social media with other Hike-A-Thoners, and you are eligible to receive fun prizes for top fundraising and participants with the most miles recorded.
The New Jersey Highlands Coalition encourages friends and family members to support your miles hiked, biked, and paddled by donating to your campaign! Join your friends, family, neighbors, and more in hiking, biking, and paddling as a group team!
“The Hike-A-Thon gives people a chance to set any personal goals that is in terms of the miles they log over the course of the month or setting a goal to see places that they haven’t explored previously, like a park or trail that they haven’t been to, so there is an opportunity to connect with new places.”
If you are a top Hike-A-Thoner, with the most miles recorded or a Top Fundraiser, you will win a $50 gift certificate to Dick’s Sporting Goods. The Top Hike-A-Thon Team, with the most miles recorded, and the Top Fundraising Team will win a pizza party. An essential aspect for bikers to know is that their overall miles on a bicycle will be “converted” to hiking miles, with one hiking mile awarded for every four miles cycled.
“When someone is protecting the places they love, they are protecting their environment as well, and they are certainly protecting the water supply that the state of New Jersey depends on,” said Jen.
The winners of the Hike-A-Thon prizes and recognition will be announced by the NJHC each week on Facebook and Instagram. There will also be additional prizes and weekly incentives! All the prizes for the awarded winners will be mailed and emailed on or around July 5, 2023.
There are ways to stay active and support the Highlands year-round rather than just in June. Julia Somers says, “The first thing people can do is become a member, they can sign up to receive our action alerts, and it is really no different than being a good citizen anywhere; it’s stay informed.”
NJHC is anticipating legislation as soon as this month on how the state manages and stewards its public forests. “We have hundreds of thousands of acres of preserved land that are forested in the highlands and how we manage those lands is extremely important, especially today now that climate change is such an important thing,” Julia said. “So staying informed and involved around that kind of stuff is going to be critical as we go forward with this legislation.”
You are still able to join. People from all over, not just New Jersey, can sign up for the Hike-A-Thon all throughout June!
For more information about the New Jersey Highland Coalition and the Highlands, visit https://njhighlandscoalition.org/.
To learn more about the Hike-A-Thon, visit https://runsignup.com/Race/NJ/BOONTON/ExploretheHighlands.
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