Miles with Meaning: The Relay for Clean Air

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Five years ago, I ran across the Smokies to raise awareness about air pollution plaguing our mountains. Afterward, I realized that a relay would be far more fun—and reach a lot more people—than running by myself. So I teamed up with the Canary Coalition to organize the first-ever Relay for Clean Air in 2004. We were a small group of dedicated runners and hikers in that first year who covered the 100 miles from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Asheville, N.C., along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Five years later, the 100-mile relay attracts national media attention. Runners, hikers, walkers, and now cyclists participate in the relay, which is divided into 37 segments. Some segments are rugged and remote, like the climbs through the Balsam Mountains. Others are flat and fast, like the ridgeline stroll near the Pisgah Inn. Some segments are traveled solo; other segments have dozens of hikers walking together. Some segments are only a mile; others are ten or more.

The Mountains to Sea Trail parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway for most of the route, allowing relay participants the opportunity to escape the road and enjoy a stroll beneath the trees. But most folks stick to the Parkway to enjoy the vistas. The views in August are breathtaking—literally…smog often chokes the overlooks, shrouding the green waves of mountain in gauzy gray haze.

However, you can take action with your feet. Participating in the relay is one of the most important things you can do to restore clean air to the mountains, because it’s a visible display of your concern for public health and your willingness to walk the talk. It’s also a helluva good time. A support van follows relay participants the entire way, and the camaraderie and excitement surrounding the relay makes your miles feel even more meaningful.

It’s free. It’s fun. And it’s an important step to bringing healthy air back to the mountains. Join the relay today by contacting the Canary Coalition at or 828-631-3447. You can view a complete relay schedule and learn more here.

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