On Tuesday mornings at 6:30 sharp, come rain, sleet or fog, Justin Borton and a band of diehard Sonoma County trail runners meet at the base of Taylor Mountain and summit the steep 1300 elevation before most Sonoma County residents have even had their coffee. Started three years ago, the “Taylor Mountain Tuesdays” group has bonded over inclement weather, muscle cramps, fatigue and even, one day last October, the thick, acrid smoke that forced them to don air masks while they ran.
But they persevered through that painful day, and are not giving up on a new quest: to help raise funds for restoring the wildfire ravaged trails that offer them salvation.
Along with dozens of Sonoma County trail runners, they are heading to Tahoe this summer for a grueling 24-hour team race — at altitude — expecting to test their physical limits, enjoy some bonding time with friends and raise some cash for Sonoma County parks ravaged by October wildfires.
The July Ragnar Tahoe Trail relay is the centerpiece of the #SonomaStrong Parks Restoration Challenge, a fundraising campaign to benefit the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation and to help pay for wildfire restoration and resiliency projects undertaken in the wake of the devastating firestorm.
Organizer Borton hopes to raise $40,000 through givebacks from relay registration fees and direct fundraising begun in December.
Participation “is already beating my expectations, so I’m pretty stoked,” Borton said.
At least 70 people already have signed on to run the relay, while 100 or more total are expected eventually to register, he said. At least $45 from each individual registration fee goes toward the parks foundation, and the cut of fees designated for the foundation gets higher the more people participate, Borton said.
Among those training for the race is Santa Rosa resident Angela Sutherland, a veteran of the Tahoe trail run who is willing to revisit the punishing elevation gains and thin, high-altitude air despite still-fresh memories of just how hard it will be to run and breathe at the same time. Camp is at 7,000 feet, and “the run just goes up from there,” she said.
But contributing to the beloved open spaces that Sonoma County athletes flock to in all sorts of weather is a compelling motivation, Sutherland said.
“We all cried when the fires happened,” she said. “Not to be corny, but for runners, our parks are like church.”
The running group’s contributions are part of a larger, parks foundation effort to raise $250,000 for projects related to the autumn fires, Executive Director Melissa Kelley said.
About $105,000 has been raised so far, primarily through the annual year-end giving season, when residents proved themselves were even more generous than usual, Kelley said.
“People love their parks in this area, and I’m very grateful for that,” Kelley said. “We had a very strong response.”
Wildfires that ignited around the region during extremely high winds the night of Oct. 8 — including two of the six most destructive fires in California history — torched 137 square miles in Sonoma County.
The fires also burned through numerous public parks, including six regional parks: Hood Mountain, Shiloh Ranch, Sonoma Valley, Crane Canyon, Tolay Lake and Tom Shopflin Fields.