‘Run the State’ cruises into Ouabache, hits homeward stretchposted by Brent Brown on July 20, 2018
BLUFFTON – A beautiful, sun-soaked Saturday morning saw more than 120 state employees, their friends and families gather for the Run the State 5K and Hike Series’ Ouabache State Park debut.
The third event in this year’s series took participants along a picturesque path that showcased some of the park’s main attractions (Kunkel Lake and a bison enclosure chief among them) on a roughly 3.1 mile course perfect for any pace.
In that way, the 5K was as much a competitive race for some as it was a relaxing stroll for others. But no matter the speed in which they finished, the participants were unanimous in their assessment that the run/walk was plenty of fun.
Ready, set, go!
Aaron Reidenbach, for instance, took a short trip from Fort Wayne to the outskirts of Bluffton to be part of the July 14 event, an activity that he is planning to make a habit. The Department of Child Services (DCS) family case manager said he plans to be part of similar runs taking place within an hour’s drive of his home.
Reidenbach was among the early finishers Saturday, and he spent time chatting with fellow participant Chris Elliott as more runners and walkers filed in around them each having signed up for any number of reasons. Their own health goals and other motivating factors in tow, they took the course at whatever pace they chose, with some pushing strollers and others running alongside happy-looking four-legged friends.
Reidenbach said the Go365 Points earned through completion of the 5K were one of the factors that led him to Ouabache.
“I really wanted to get those Go365 points,” he said with a laugh.
He wasn’t alone.
Participants snapped selfies at the finish line, making sure their race bib was visible. Uploading the photo to Go365 earned them 250 points and put them on the way to Silver Status, qualifying them for Upgrade 2019. The end result is lowered healthcare costs.
Read more about state employee health plan options here.
A matter of course
Not an avid runner, Reidenbach nonetheless joined dozens of others on a hot, humid morning who made the decision to brave the summer heat, get up early and get moving.
Fellow DCS employees Courtney Benson and Leanne McNeely were two other fast finishers who thought the 5K was a fun way to spend a summer morning.
“I do this to de-stress,” remarked Benson, a family case manager in Indianapolis who participated in a pair of 2017 Run the State events.
McNeely said she enjoys running as a healthy activity, and she’s particularly fond of the Hoosier scenery that so often provides a breathtaking backdrop to any outdoor adventure.
Ouabache has such splendor in spades, and that on its own was more than enough motivation for McNeely, a DCS attorney working in Marion County, to lace up her running shoes.
“I like trail runs and I felt like this was a good option,” she said, taking a post-race respite in the park’s Rustic Oak shelter.
Benson said she enjoys visiting state parks and Saturday’s event allowed her to check Ouabache off the list. She plans to be part of the hike at Clifty Falls July 28, and she’ll run again at Fort Harrison Aug. 11.
There should be plenty to see at both.
It was that same inherent scenic beauty of Indiana’s state parks that led sisters Linda Gray and Sandy MacFarlane to join the Ouabache 5K, and neither was disappointed.
“I really loved that it was on trails this year,” said MacFarlane, a veteran of the 2017 Run the State circuit.
Gray, a DCS program director, and her sister were all smiles after completing the course, which snaked its way through the park and gave all participants a glimpse at Ouabache’s signature fire tower, ever- roaming bison herd, and nature trails that might best be left to the grandest descriptions of the likes of Whitman and Frost.
The scenic route was well-received by race-goers, but it may have been America’s relatively newly-minted National Mammal that ended up stealing the show on a day filled with opportunities for outdoor fun.
Gray and MacFarlane were part of a large group of 5K participants and other park visitors who learned virtually all there is to know about the American bison…in a span of approximately 45 minutes.
Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Seasonal Interpretive Naturalist Kaitlin Carroll treated park attendees to a special edition of “Bison Babble,” a twice-monthly program that gives guests an up-close look at the park’s resident mammoth creatures. The bison gathered to feed during the program, and some of the park attendees were allowed to help the hungry herd feast on a weekly treat.
It’s something you certainly don’t see every day.
Ouabache, as a matter of fact, is the only state park in Indiana with its own bison herd. Most of the animals who call the park home have lived their entire lives there, including a newborn male that was born, coincidentally, on Mother’s Day 2018.
Sadly, their tale is largely a tragic one as the now-revered animal teetered on the edge of extinction due to poaching and habitat destruction that occurred primarily during westward expansion in the 19th century. Today, Carroll explained, the bison is a symbol of resilience, its story a sobering lesson in conservation.
Saturday in the park
The bison program was one way race participants could spend the morning enjoying more than just the Run the State activities. And that’s another goal of the series: to bring the natural beauty of the Hoosier State’s parks to state employees and their families.
Amber Herndon, taking time after the race to chat with her daughters Cori Herndon and Starr Douglas, described Ouabache as “beautiful.”
The women all live in Fort Wayne, approximately a half-hour’s drive from Wells County. Douglas is a DCS family case manager in nearby Adams County.
She also took time to discuss her career, which began only about a year ago.
“I really like working with the families,” she said.
Fellow DCS employee Reidenbach cited his colleagues as the best part of his job.
“I just really enjoy working with my co-workers,” he said.
Feel-good stories appear to go hand-in-hand with the Run the State series.
With one more hike and one more run hitting the trails before the end of the 2018 season, there should be ample time for state employees, their families and friends to make a run toward better health.