By Michele S. Byers
The summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, are on hold due to the pandemic, just like hundreds of other athletic events ranging from local 5K races and biking events to the New York City Marathon.
If you are missing the action and want to participate in a large-scale athletic event while supporting a good cause, why not join the Greenway Games from Aug. 1 through Aug. 9?
The Greenway Games are a choose-your-own-challenge event to raise funds and awareness for the East Coast Greenway, an ambitious 3,000-mile off-road walking, running and bicycling trail envisioned from northern Maine to the Florida Keys.
“The Greenway Games are being held during what would have been the second week of the Olympics,” said John Martin, communications manager for the East Coast Greenway Alliance, the nonprofit behind the Greenway.
“It’s something we have never tried before, but we have seen such a surge in trail use during the pandemic that we thought it would be fun,” he said.
The East Coast Greenway has been dubbed “the urban equivalent of the Appalachian Trail.” It crosses through 15 states, including New Jersey, and 450 cities or towns. The New Jersey section includes the 36-mile Delaware and Raritan Canal tow path, one of the longest off-road stretches.
Other Greenway sections in this state we’re in include the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway in Jersey City, the Riverfront Park Trail and Weequahic Park Path in Newark, the Lenape Park Path in Union County, the Nomahegan Park Path in Cranford, the Rahway River Park Path in Rahway, the Middlesex Greenway in Woodbridge and Metuchen, and the Delaware River Heritage Trail.
During the pandemic, the alliance has seen record usage up and down the East Coast Greenway as people turn to trails for exercise in the fresh air while socially distancing. Many people routinely use the Greenway for commuting on their bicycle to work.
Like many nonprofit organizations, the alliance was forced to cancel in-person fundraisers this year. For example, its planned New York City to Philadelphia bike ride, scheduled for May with some 300 riders, was postponed.
So the alliance instead opted for a bunch of individual fundraisers along the Greenway.
Here’s how to join the Greenway Games:
• First, design your own event. It could be a 5K run, a 10K bike ride, a family nature hike or a dog walk; or something offbeat like creating a giant hopscotch board, hopping on a pogo stick or doing pushups.
One group in North Carolina is planning a steeplechase, a 3,000-meter run with large hurdles and kiddie pool with water hazards, but the alliance is open to more sedentary activities like knitting or baking chocolate chip cookies!
• Next, turn your challenge into a fundraiser for the East Coast Greenway Alliance. Set a fundraising goal and invite your friends and family members to pledge and/or participate.
• Schedule your event for anytime between Aug. 1-9. There’s even some leeway if that time frame conflicts with your schedule.
• Register by going to www.greenway.org/greenwaygames. If you choose the $50 option instead of the free option, you will receive a T-shirt, a one-year membership in the alliance and a chance to win prizes.
• Hold your event and post photos and videos on social media using the hashtag #GreenwayGames. You could even set some personal fitness goals to boot.
“We will consider it a success if we just see people out there having fun and learning the benefits of greenways and trails,” Martin said.
Right now, a third of the East Coast Greenway – about 1,000 miles – is on protected, traffic-free trails which annually host about 20 million walks, runs and bike rides.
The alliance is working to move the other 2,000 miles of the East Coast Greenway off public streets and away from traffic.
To get pumped up for the Greenway Games, tune in to an Instagram Live Q&A with runner Kaitlyn Gregg Goodman, a four-time Olympic Trials qualifier, on July 30 at 6 p.m.
Goodman founded a nonprofit called Safe on the Road after being injured after jumping out of the way of a distracted driver. To participate in the Q&A, follow East Coast Greenway on Instagram.
For more information about the East Coast Greenway Alliance and its projects, go to www.greenway.org/
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org