An inclusive running community dedicated to environmental justice, advocacy, and conservation
Launched on Earth Day, 2019, and based in Ventura, California, Runners for Public Lands is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit environmental organization committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion
Board of Directors
RPL Co-Vice President, Ventura, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Santa Paula, CA
Santa Barbara, CA
Newbury Park, CA
RPL Co-Vice President, Santa Barbara, CA
Dr. Leigh Scarber
RPL Social Media Director, Ojai, CA
Santa Barbara, CA
The 2016 Water Protectors Movement at Standing Rock inspired many people, including me. I’d been hanging out with runners and activists for years, but hadn’t put the two together until I saw the Oceti Sakowin youth, carrying their people’s prayers and petitions, run over 2000 miles in resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. As corporate and government threats to native and public lands mounted, Mike Foote’s 2017 Trail Runner Magazine article “No Free Lunch: Trail Running and the Public Lands Debate” called trail runners to step up and join the fight. Runners were the largest outdoor recreational group in the United States (and still are), over 60 million strong, and didn’t have an organized, collective, national voice in environmental advocacy and conservation work.
Soon after, I helped put on a trail running and public lands event co-hosted by Bryant Baker, Conservation Director of Los Padres ForestWatch, and Josh Spiker, President of Mile 26 Running Company, in Ventura, California, on November 7, 2017; started training as a community organizer and a California Naturalist; and interviewed over 100 people across the country on connecting running and environmental stewardship.
Within a month, the Thomas Fire burned through my hometown and neighboring communities, scorching nearly 300,000 acres. On the night of December 4, 2017, my family and I said goodbye to everything, and fled the city. (Luckily, our house survived the fire, though more than 1000 structures in our community did not.) The air remained unbreathable for weeks, and the region, unrunnable. Then…the rains came, flooding quickly followed, and mudslides killed 23 people and destroyed 130 more homes. Climate change had upped the ante in our lives, just as climate scientists said it would. With an average temperature rise of 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels, Ventura County is the fastest warming county in the Lower 48, heating up at double the rate of the rest of the nation.
Around the same time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published what’s become its most influential report, confirming the difference an average temperature increase of just a half-degree Celsius makes in human suffering, ecosystem degradation, biodiversity loss, and mass extinction. This report, and another dedicated group of Indigenous prayer runners (organized by Wings of America, Bears Ears Prayer Run Alliance, Utah Diné Bikéyah, and the Seventh Generation Fund) running nearly 800 miles to Bears Ears National Monument in resistance to similar corporate and government interests as before, called for action, again.
Finally, on September 24, 2018, hosted by Ventura Land Trust at Topa Topa Brewing Company in Ventura, I presented the concept of Runners for Public Lands (RPL) to regional runners and other friends. The graphic design company Sketchfolio generously built our website; we registered RPL as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit environmental organization; and we launched on Earth Day, April 20, 2019, with a trail run and habitat restoration event at Harmon Canyon in Ventura.
RPL’s leadership team comprises recreational and competitive runners (road and trail), environmental scientists, conservation professionals, running and outdoor industry people, and an array of others passionate about the environment. RPL’s Advocacy and Education Committee plans both our advocacy campaigns and educational opportunities for runners; the Events and Outreach Committee plans our social events and conservation work in partnership with regional nonprofits and businesses; and the Development Committee raises funds for RPL and networks with runners nationally to build a grassroots movement dedicated to environmental advocacy and conservation work.
Executive Board: Laura Ochoa (president), Kate Furlong (co-vice president), Jess Rogers (co-vice president), Stephen Efner (secretary)
Board of Directors: François Appéré, Bryant Baker, Martha Garcia, Ellie Jefferies, Kamilah Journét, Michelle Libman, Lizette Nuñez, Preston Ryan, Dr. Leigh Scarber, Marcos Vargas
Advocacy and Education Committee: Nancy Switzler (chair), Bryant Baker, Kate Furlong, Katie Gialketsis, Marjolaine Mazurier, Elise Pescheret, Preston Ryan
Events and Outreach Committee: Michelle Libman (chair), Tylar Harrison, Kyle O’Kelley, Emily Redfield, Jess Rogers, Preston Ryan, Mike Scarber, Lori Sharp
Development Committee: Françios Appéré (chair), Stephen Efner, Kate Furlong, Laura Ochoa
Executive Director: Vic Thasiah; Social Media Director: Dr. Leigh Scarber
Sponsors: AllWeDoIsRun, Ascent Wellness, HOKA ONE ONE, Los Padres ForestWatch, Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, Patagonia, REI, Sage Trail Alliance, Spartan Trail, Topa Topa Brewing Company, Ventura Land Trust
The vision of inclusive running communities everywhere dedicated to environmental justice, climate action, green space and public lands advocacy, sustainability, and hands-on conservation work continues to guide our work.