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Elachee has a fun, unconventional idea for 2020: You should walk 150 miles
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Elachee Nature Science Center has launched the Chicopee Challenge, which calls people of all ages to hike 150 miles in the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve over the course of a year. - photo by Kelsey Podo

Elachee Nature Science Center is challenging community members to hike along the trails of Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve — 150 miles, to be exact.

The Chicopee Challenge puts people to the task of logging in 150 miles over the course of a year within Elachee’s property. Participants are responsible for recording their own mileage on a form found on elachee.org or at the center’s gift shop. 

Wes Hatch, a naturalist at the nonprofit, started the program in January with the intention of getting people out of their homes and into Elachee’s green space.

“It sounds like a ton,” Hatch said. “But, if you think about it, there are 52 weeks in a year. That’s three miles per week.”

Elachee’s 8-mile trail system has seven paths, ranging from a quick 0.4-mile loop, to a 3-mile hike. 

Hatch plans to lead several weekend hikes throughout the year. The next guided trail day will take place from 8-9:45 a.m. on Saturday, April 4. 

“The more you’re out on the trails, the better chance you see wildlife crossing your path,” Hatch said. “There’s so many times I go back to the same exact places, and I still see new things. That’s the fun part about it.”

Melissa Reid, Elachee’s director of schools, said all ages are encouraged to participate in the 150-mile challenge. Even if someone wants to bring a child in a stroller, the Geiger Trail offers a paved path.

Elachee Nature Academy’s students, from preschool to first grade, have jumped on the challenge. 

Angela Belanger, Elachee preschool teacher, said her 18 students already hike a little each day. However, when they came back for the second half of the school year, they were ready for more of a challenge. 

Belanger said adding a little extra hiking to the students’ days not only benefits their health, but heightens their learning. She talks about the trails with the kids and helps them count the miles they record. 

“When I’m out there with them (preschoolers), it’s just an experience,” Belanger said. “We know as teachers that they’re learning something. But to them, they’re just having fun.”

For parents wanting to take their children out on the trails, she recommends walking on the Geiger Trail or Dodd Loop. Both are beginner-friendly and under a mile.

Those who complete the challenge and return their forms with a $10 donation, will receive a Chicopee Challenge T-shirt. 

Andrea Timpone, president and CEO of Elachee, said witnessing the seasons changing in Chicopee Woods proves the biggest incentive. 

“I hope it brings a great appreciation for this tremendous green space that we have here,” Timpone said. “To me, it’s important for more people to realize what a gift this is.”

Elachee’s trails are open daily, from 7 a.m. to dusk. Dogs are not permitted Monday-Friday. For more information about the Chicopee Challenge, email wes@elachee.org or call 770-535-1976.

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