This past June, approximately a thousand hikers joined in the 22nd running of the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge — a 35-mile all-day event that starts at 5:50 a.m. The deadline to finish was set at 8:54 p.m., or 15 hours and four minutes later.
It should be noted that this is not a race. The goal is just to finish — while taking in all of the natural splendor that the trail offers as participants wind through terrain just north of Pittsburgh and its suburbs.
Carson was a famous conservationist from the area who is credited with inspiring the global environmental movement with her 1962 book “Silent Spring.” Although the challenge was named in her honor, a few of the challenge participants became disgruntled when they discovered that signs of the growing fracking industry had shown up along the path.
In one spot in Indiana Township, a large number of trees had been cleared to make way for a drilling rig for a Marcellus shale well pad that is being developed by Range Resources Corporation.
“All we would have to do is put some kind of markers out that would keep people walking right across that,” says Bob Mulshine, the president of the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy and director of the challenge. “And for us as a hiking group, this is not an inconvenience.”
Although this is the first time a drilling rig for fracking has caused an obstacle along the path, Mulshine says this was not the first time industrial activity has complicated the situation for participants.
“We don't own any of the trail,” he says. “We do not control this property at all. We walk totally ... from the generosity of our volunteers who maintain the trails and the landowners and the people who control the land, when they give us their permission to use it.”
Mulshine says Range Resources has been very easy to work with during the process of putting together the event, even going so far as to be an event sponsor.
“We were thrilled that a drilling company wasn't trying to force us out of the woods,” Mulshine says.
Does Mulshine think that the event’s namesake would approve of the recent chain of events?
“Would she like this? She bought a place up in Maine, a very secluded place up in Maine,” he says. “We're trying to find the best we can for the people that are living in the area.”
Still, that sentiment simply is not enough for some of the people who have taken part in the challenge like Kenton Ganster, a four-time participant who has served as a volunteer.
“It's just not something you really want to see,” says Ganster of the drilling rig right off the path. “It's like a strip mine or anything else like that. You just really don't want to see it out here when you're coming to get away from all the industrialism and everything.”
Ganster, though, can see a bit of silver lining: Urbanites who take part in the challenge can now get an up-and-close realization of where the energy they rely on is sourced.
“I do think it's good for the Rachel Carson type of crowd people to see it, because — I mean, you can look at it and decide what you think, and you can smell it and decide what you think, you know what I mean,” Ganster says. “And just see, is that something you want in your backyard. Because that's essentially what this is, is Pittsburgh's backyard.”